Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E20 - School Shuffle Stories III - Olympic Hills, Orca, and Leschi

January 08, 2024 Christie Robertson Season 1 Episode 20
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E20 - School Shuffle Stories III - Olympic Hills, Orca, and Leschi
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Part III in our three-part series of on-the-ground stories from the "October shuffles" at SPS elementary schools, where teachers are moved between classes and buildings to match enrollment and class ratio requirements. In this episode, we interviewed: 

  • Jessica Warner-Grant, a parent at Olympic Hills Elementary in Lake City
  • Tyler Dupuis, a teacher at Orca K-8 in Columbia City 
  • Kevin Litwack, a parent at Leschi Elementary in the Central District

Part I - Dunlap
Part II - Adams and Cedar Park

See our show notes.

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Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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School Shuffle Stories III - Olympic Hills, Orca, and Leschi

[00:00:05] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:00:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. In our first two episodes about the October Shuffle, we brought you stories from several Seattle schools impacted by unexpected teacher displacement this October.

[00:00:24] Christie Robertson: In part one, we talked to community members from Dunlap Elementary. And in Part Two, we talked to parents from Cedar Park and Adams Elementary. You can go back and listen to those episodes by looking for "School Shuffle Stories" on seattlehallpass.org.

Today, we'll hear from families and teachers grappling with these changes at Leschi Elementary, Olympic Hills Elementary, and Orca K-8. 

I want to note that all of these interviews were recorded in October of 2023 and edited for length and clarity. 

Let's dive into the third installment of our School Shuffle Stories series with Olympic Hills. Jessica Warner-Grant describes the disruption when her child's dedicated 5th-grade teacher was abruptly pulled away to meet district ratios.

[00:01:15] Jane Tunks Demel: So tell us what happened.

[00:01:16] Jessica Warner-Grant: So I think that I had some awareness that this was happening because we have good friends who go to West Woodland and they heard about this reallocation, I want to say three weeks or so ahead of when we did. And they had a big family meeting with their principal to understand what was going on. And, obviously lots of feelings from all of those families.  But from my standpoint, I was like, “wow, that sounds really terrible. And it also sounds like we have dodged it at our school.” So it felt like there was this little sense of relief that we were not going to be impacted by that. 

 Which I think made it even more surprising, and infuriating, frankly, on the 3rd of October, in the afternoon, which is when we got, with no warning shot, a letter from our principal saying that, "This is what we've been asked to do, and there's no good solutions. And this is what we've already decided we're doing, and it's happening next week. "

 The solution that was developed was to take our daughter's fifth-grade teacher and convert her to being primarily a K-3 Resource teacher, like the ones who do extra reading and math. And all of the students have contact with those teachers. It's not like they are only working with the subset of kids who need a lot of extra support. That was the first notification we had of anything.  

The initial communication that we got from the school only went to the parents of fifth graders. And so there was this period of time where we were telling the other parents what was happening. And there were a lot of people who had a lot of questions that weren't being answered. And honestly, I learned more about what was happening from my kid than I have still learned from the district.  And it took time to even understand what was going on. 

What the initial communication didn't address for us was the nitty gritty logistics of "Are you taking these 5th graders and moving them physically into these already full other two 5th grade classrooms?  Are you splitting them up from their friends? How much contact are they going to still have with their current teacher?"  Our daughter's fifth-grade teacher is truly one of the best teachers I've ever met in my entire life. She's amazing. Like, she's like a unicorn teacher. 

And I think what stood out to me the most was that our K-3 ratios at Olympic Hills were actually fine. They already were meeting the requirements for the state mandate. The swirl since then has been, because this is being averaged across the entire district, our school was making up a deficit that existed somewhere else, even though we already had really excellent K-3 ratios. 

And as a parent of both a fifth-grader and a younger student,  I can say our first-grader class sizes are great. And so it really felt like we were taking something away from the older kids to fix a problem that didn't really exist for the younger grades, at least at our school.

My 5th grader was in 1st grade when the COVID shutdown happened.  And then transitioned to remote schooling that we were doing at our house with another family and trying to hold it all together, right? And then, through no fault of her school, but just due to individual health issues and other things like that, she ended up having four teachers during second grade, during remote schooling. 

[00:05:02] Jane Tunks Demel: Wow. 

[00:05:02] Christie Robertson: That's a lot. 

[00:05:04] Jessica Warner-Grant: Getting her back to school in third grade was amazing. And then we moved. So last year was her first year in Olympic Hills. 

So I think, about COVID and SPS, I think these kids don't, they don't trust always that the grown-ups have their best interest in mind. And she has said that to me outright before.

[00:05:27] Christie Robertson: That's hard to hear from a fifth grader.

[00:05:29] Jessica Warner-Grant: And like, that is the experience that some of them are taking away from elementary school.

This is a weird anecdote, but, like, at our old school, after they went back, there was a two-week period of time where the COVID cases in the school skyrocketed. And so the school actually called it and was like, “We're going remote for two weeks. We just have to extinguish this surge.” Which was 100% the right thing to do.  

And she took that so hard. She was so upset. Even though we were actually home sick with COVID at the time. Like, she could not have gone, even if school had been happening. She was so upset and I couldn't figure out why. I honestly was like, “Why is this bothering you so much?  Everybody's missing school at the same time. You're all going to get to go back at the same time together.” 

And she was like, “We don't actually think we're going to go back in two weeks.”

And I was like, “Why?” 

And she's “Because we've never gone back when they said that we were going to go back.” 

[00:06:21] Christie Robertson: Right? They said two weeks the first time!

[00:06:24] Jessica Warner-Grant: Exactly. And she was so little when that happened, but they hear it all, right? And they remember it all. And they... they keep the score, I think, more than we realize. 

So this is her last year of elementary school. She had gotten this amazing teacher, who is the teacher that everybody wanted. I think that the grief of that has been a hard thing to work through with her.

They have community. They have class expectations. They have a pet in this class. It's like little things like that. But this is not, "Oh, it's the second week of school, and our enrollment differed from what we expected. And so we're going to make some shifts." Which still sucks, right? That still is not good for the kids that it impacts. But this is almost a month and a half into the year, in their last year of elementary school, when they're going to have this huge other transition next year. 

She still gets to see her teacher for chunks of time each day. Her teacher starts the day with them. She ends the day with them. She is, on her own time, spending extra time with them at lunch, and other things like that. 

But I think trying to explain to her why it makes sense for her teacher to be spending part of her day supporting her little sister's classroom. It's a hard sell.

[00:07:43] Christie Robertson: Especially because her little sister was fine. 

[00:07:47] Jessica Warner-Grant: Was fine, was fine. I wrote a letter to the superintendent and to our school board person 

[00:07:56] Christie Robertson: Liza? 

[00:07:57] Jessica Warner-Grant: It's Liza Rankin. I wrote these very long letters to both of them. And I don't think I've gotten a response from her. And then the response I got from SPS... Here, I can, I'll read it to you. I saved it because it made me so mad.

"Thank you for reaching out to the superintendent's office to provide your input. Seattle Public Schools has received feedback from many families and community members expressing concern and frustration. Please know district staff are listening and recognize that changes made during the school year are challenging and tough for families. However, school leaders are doing their best to minimize disruption to students. In a commitment to transparency, the district is providing more details on how we arrived at these decisions."

And then it just provides me with a link to FAQs, which breaks down the difference between the normal October shifts and this. But not in a way that allows people to take any kind of action or advocate for their kids. And that's it. 

[00:08:54] Jane Tunks Demel: In my opinion, they they haven't explained why this happened. Their response is to explain to us about class ratios and October adjustments, instead of saying, "This is how we made this error, and this is why we couldn't plug those holes."

[00:09:10] Jessica Warner-Grant: Right. And then our school is like a secondary error, too, in that it wasn't even in the first wave of this, right? So it seems like they made some adjustments at some schools, and then they realized that it still hadn't done enough to make the numbers work, right? And so they went for this second wave. That was then almost six weeks after school started. 

[00:09:31] Jane Tunks Demel: So tell us how it is working for that fifth-grade class now. You mentioned that their teacher is there in the beginning and the end of the day. Just tell us about their day.

[00:09:41] Jessica Warner-Grant: I... I honestly don't have an amazing concept of what's happening still. But she begins and ends the day with them, and then there's like a combination of things happening the rest of the day with other resource teachers supporting their class. And then I think they do go to the other fifth-grade classrooms for some things and not others. And then they have their kind of normal PE, art, music days that, you know, are unaffected by this. 

I have a teacher that I've never met before, who is her homeroom teacher now, sending me Talking Points messages. And that person is apparently going to be at her parent-teacher conference, because he is her assigned teacher. 

[00:10:31] Jane Tunks Demel: Was her class the only class affected? 

[00:10:34] Jessica Warner-Grant: Yes. 

[00:10:34] Jane Tunks Demel: Up and down the whole school? 

[00:10:35] Jessica Warner-Grant:  Yeah. 

[00:10:36] Jane Tunks Demel: So it sounds like they were just trying to maintain that class.

[00:10:40] Jessica Warner-Grant: Yeah. And I honestly think what Olympic Hills has done has been heroic. Has been absolutely the best thing for the kids in a sea of terrible choices. They have managed to put something together that at least maintains the kids in their community for the better part of the day. 

[00:10:58] Christie Robertson: Are they still with the pet? 

[00:10:59] Jessica Warner-Grant: They are. 

[00:11:01] Christie Robertson: That's important! 

[00:11:03] Jessica Warner-Grant: The bearded dragon remains, like, the focal point of the class. 

[00:11:08] Jane Tunks Demel: The bearded dragon's always there for them! What's his name?

[00:11:12] Jessica Warner-Grant: His name is... This is such a fifth-grade thing. His name is “Lil’ Kirby (Lil’, not little, Lil’) The Mango Wizard.” He is the most loved bearded dragon that's ever existed on the face of the Earth. 

You know, and so I think they figured out a way to make this work, to meet what they were being asked to do. And frankly, the other options I'm sure were much worse. I think what I will never get over is the fact that our school didn't actually need to do it. 

The right answer was to fund more K-3 teachers to help the schools that were not meeting the 1 to 17 ratio. And instead of doing that, because it cost money, and they didn't have their rainy day fund, and they lost all this other money from other kids going to private school because of stuff like this, instead of doing that, they did this.

[00:12:05] Christie Robertson: I don't know if it's because the district is so big, or it's because of the history of the district or something, but it just feels like there's not a taking into account of the actual impact on kids of the decisions and a weighing of that versus the money.

So like this was 3.6 million dollars over the whole district and the stories of impact that even we've heard, which is a tiny, tiny fraction, are so big.

[00:12:28] Jessica Warner-Grant: Well, and I think, one thing I highlighted in my letters to Liza Rankin and the superintendent was exactly that about Olympic Hills, like about what our student composition is and how many of our students are eligible for free lunch, and how many students speak a language other than English at home.

It just doesn't feel like the school to make the math work, right? We are in a privileged group within the school community, and I recognize that, but when I think about these other kids and how already inequitable their education experiences are going to be, and, the families that don't have the option to get finally mad enough that they send their kids to private school. Which is what it feels like they're trying to push everybody to do, frankly, every year. It just feels like this is not the right school to use to make up a problem somewhere else. 

[00:13:25] Jane Tunks Demel: From families that you know, or that you've heard from, what are people feeling?

[00:13:29] Jessica Warner-Grant: I think we all just shrug, right? This is like a very powerless feeling to know that this decision was made. The most we felt like we could do is attend meetings and write letters. And it wasn't going to change anyone's mind. And so we all did that and have all gotten these very formulaic responses or no response at all. And so at this point, I think people are just resigned to “this is how it's going to be. And this is what our kids are going to remember about fifth grade.”

My husband and I believe in public school. We will ride and die for public school. We both went to public school. We're not going to pull our kids out of public school. But we know a lot of people who have and totally understand why they have made that choice.

But it just feels like each year's emergency, whether it's COVID or the strike or this or whatever else, is just dealt with in such a nontransparent way or a way that tries to get us to be mad at their teachers instead of where the decisions actually lie. It just, it's exhausting. And I think it keeps you in a state of permanent vigilance.

I would love to get an email from them and not have to read it with a magnifying glass to try to understand what's in there. And I would love to just assume that the school district that we pay levies for and volunteer at and support and do all the things is doing the right thing for our kids without us having to constantly check their work, right? And it doesn't feel like we're in that space. 

[00:15:14] Christie Robertson: Thank you for talking to us, because our hope is that by elevating family stories and bringing people together that it can feel less like one individual shouting at the institution and getting quashed. 

[00:15:31] Jane Tunks Demel: We checked in with Jessica recently to get an update, and we learned that the 5th-grade teacher who was starting and ending the day with the kids is now going on personal leave. So those students will have yet another part-time teacher starting after the new year. 

[00:15:47] Christie Robertson: Meanwhile, over at Orca K-8, teacher Tyler Dupuis grappled with his own classroom upheaval six weeks into the school year. 

[00:15:55] Tyler Dupuis: Yeah. So I teach at a K-8. They're pretty special in terms of, we're serving students of a wide range of needs and maturity, from kindergarteners all the way to eighth graders. 

When I came to Orca a couple of years ago, we already felt very stretched thin in terms of our ability, especially, to serve special education needs. A student has an IEP, they need to have a certain number of minutes met per month in order to serve that IEP. And it felt difficult to do that with the IAs (the instructional assistants) we were able to provide. It constantly felt like “we have this one IA, but there should really be probably three of her.” They were so overworked. They were pulled in all these different directions. Not just to serve the students who they were assigned to serve, but also if someone was out, we needed somebody to have lunchroom duty for that day. Someone else was out, but their classroom was covered, but then you still need to take their break. These people were just running around constantly trying to both provide the services that they're required to provide and also just do everything else that was being asked of them. 

And that was before. We've experienced massive cuts in this very short amount of time.

[00:17:05] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, so tell us about all the cuts. Because I know in your public comment, you mentioned one-third of the teachers.

[00:17:11] Tyler Dupuis: So at the end of that year, we felt really stretched thin. And then we were just told that enrollment projections were down, and we're going to need to cut two of our middle school teachers. In addition to losing our part-time assistant principal who, same thing, was worked constantly, dealing with the serious needs of students. 

We're going to lose one of our multilingual instructors. Our librarian was going down to halftime in order to be also halftime multilingual instruction. And we have a fair number of multilingual students, receiving multilingual services. And it's like any other service. You should get pulled for some time of the day to work on these skills. And it's difficult when you're doing it only half-time. There's a whole process for, you know, evaluating, determining where they are in their English competency. It's a very important role to play and a service to provide to these students. And when you're already performing another role at the school and doing 100 other things as well, it's tough to get everyone the services they provide.

And then, we had six middle school teachers prior and we're going to go down to four. And last spring I felt like this was some serious stuff and really couldn't conceive of how we're going to cover a lot of our bases with one-third less middle school teachers. To still serve the same amount of students. When, like I said, it seems like every single position should have been like, “we need two of this person. We need three of this person.” 

Then the district tells you, "Oh, you're overstaffed", as if these people are just sitting in rooms all day, twiddling their thumbs. Like "I've got, so much free time." And it's absolutely not the case.

[00:18:43] Jane Tunks Demel: And then, so this year, in early October, you found out they wanted to cut an additional elementary school teacher. Is that right?

[00:18:50] Tyler Dupuis: That's right. A first-grade teacher.

So the way it works is that it wasn't necessarily a first-grade teacher. It's just the district tells you that you're overstaffed based on these metrics, these formulae, by so much FTE (full time whatever it is). So you need to reduce it one way or the other.

And this is a terrible process because the building leadership team and the school need to all sit together and figure out “how are we going to do this?” And there's obviously no good answer. Oh, maybe you can cobble together a 1.0 position from these two positions. But that means that both of those positions will be eliminated. 

What it ended up being was that we needed to collapse a classroom, was the way it was brought to us. That classroom would be eliminated. The teacher would be displaced. The teacher gets put into the displacement pool. And does get first choice in terms of open positions elsewhere. But then all those students need somewhere to go. And so they are redistributed to other classrooms.

And again if this was some kind of overabundance, you could almost understand it, but it wasn't. It was like, we had to chop off yet another limb when we're already missing several. And we're like “how can we possibly do this?”

And so we've got splits now. We had just one split, I think, at the beginning of the year, but now I'm teaching a K/1 split. The first graders from the teacher who was displaced, 20 something of them, all to be put in other classrooms. Some came to me. Some were put into the other 1st grade class. So I have some of my students back who I taught the year before. I think there's a 2/1 as well. Another of the second-grade teachers took on some students. And is also now quite full as well. At least three or four classes have all been affected. 

[00:20:27] Jane Tunks Demel: We really wanted to hear from you, like... How do these, shuffles affect teachers when it's 35 days into school year? Which, I think one of your parents testified and said it's like 19 percent of the school year already.

[00:20:40] Tyler Dupuis: Yeah. I mean, I can speak for myself. I started the year feeling really good, actually, for my seventh year teaching. I've had difficult years pretty much every single year prior. I have taught something different every single time. My first year teaching I taught a 1/2 split. The next year I was transferred to TKK. The next year I also taught Transitional Kindergarten, but it was in the reverse ratio. So I had to modify the whole curriculum and approach for that. Then I was subbing for a while, mostly in elementary grades.

And then I got this long-term sub job two years ago, so it wasn't my classroom. And then last year was the first year where I had a classroom that was mine. It was my setup, teaching one grade. 

So then I started this year feeling nervous, but really excited because I'm in the same room teaching the same grade in the same situation. And so I could just transfer what worked last year. Whatever didn't work, I was going to tweak. And so for those first 25 days, it was magic. 

To be completely frank, I did not realize that I was a good teacher until the beginning of this year. I thought I was just struggling, and then maybe 10 years in, I would finally get some footing. And 15 years in, I would be competent and working towards good. I just thought that the learning curve was this steep. Not realizing that just one year of consistency would be really helpful. 

 So, I started this year and was like... “Wait a minute!”. All of the things I know to be best practices, the things I know to be correct pedagogy, just all of these things that I had been deploying year after year and that were hard were suddenly working and it was because consistency.

And then my main thing, which I will be an advocate for forever, is that I had the correct ratio for this kindergarten developmental age - a ratio of 16 students to one teacher. And that was the huge thing.

For the first 25 days, I was just on cloud nine. I was like, “I can't believe that I'm a good teacher, and I'm making all this work, and these students are going to go so far and learn so much!” 

I had one student who came in not knowing the letters in his name. He couldn't spell his name aloud for you if you asked him. And on day 22, he was not only writing it with some support but spelling it for other students, who were like, “how do you spell your name?” And he would spell it for them verbally. And I was like, “that wouldn't have happened until like halfway through the school year previously”. But like, I had the time. Every morning he and I sat down. We wrote his name together, because I had the time, I had the energy to just like focus on a student for more than 15 seconds at a time. 

When all this change came, all of that went out the window. And all of a sudden, I was going to need to learn an entirely new grade, right? “How does first-grade work?” I need to reconsider my entire classroom because I spent the entire summer setting it up for kindergarten and working through what is developmentally appropriate for kindergarten and how should they have a classroom arranged for them. And suddenly there's gonna be first graders in here too. I need to rediscover and reinvent what is best practice for a split grade, 25-something days into the school year. 

[00:23:46] Christie Robertson: And so much of what you were doing at the beginning was relationship. And that is, I think, for marginalized kids or kids who have difficulty in school in any way, that's 10 times more important. 

[00:24:00] Tyler Dupuis: Yeah, in previous years, when I have a packed classroom, these relationships, you can build them, but you have to build them in these small, tiny, 15-second, 45-second chunks. Because then you immediately need to switch and work with somebody else, because you have so much going on.

It's such an enormous difference to have a student come in who is dysregulated in one way or another. And I mean, these were kindergartners, so it could be pretty much anything. Like, you know, “I didn't get my favorite breakfast,” whatever, or more serious things, too. The ability to just have a student come into the room, and I can see that they're having trouble, that they're missing something, that something's going on. And just being like “Alright, I'm going to take three or four minutes here, work this through with them, and they're going to get back on track. We're going to get back to learning. They're going to get the attention that they need.” And not having to worry during those three or four minutes, “Am I missing something else? Is something else going on? Do three or four other students also need the same amount of attention?” I could just, I could relax, which was nice to build those relationships.

The class sizes in kindergarten can be up to 26 for K-3. And I would have gladly taken a pay cut to have fewer students in the room. it wouldn't have been great. My groceries bill would have looked a little different, and everything like that, but to have what we know to be the correct ratio for students, especially for kindergarten, to be below 20ish. When I had it earlier this year, the difference is beyond anything you can imagine. It makes all the difference in the world.

[00:25:29] Christie Robertson: That was one of the most powerful parts of listening to testimony was just hearing in teachers' voices the difference that they saw in their classroom, just from sheer numbers. And that's what makes me really wanna advocate to the legislature. It's just, it's not worth it to have these big classrooms. We've heard from several people that their legislators have told them that they think that they give Seattle schools plenty of money.

[00:25:53] Tyler Dupuis: Oh really? Yeah.

[00:25:54] Christie Robertson: Yeah I want people to know that's what they're thinking. 

[00:25:58] Jane Tunks Demel: And Tyler, I did think a lot of your comments at the board meeting were powerful about, like, the long-range picture of what this means for public schools in Seattle.

[00:26:07] Tyler Dupuis:  Yeah, this is a systematic plan to close these schools by slowly bleeding them dry. No one wants to send their kid to a school, understandably, that is understaffed and under-resourced. 

I used to think that it was less of a presence here in Seattle, the charter school presence. But It does seem to be pretty much the same playbook that we saw in Oakland, where public schools get defunded, public schools get cut to the bone, and then naturally parents make the decision to not send them there anymore. Enrollment drops. The school gets closed, and then... I forget that if it's a Seattle or Washington or whose law it is that when a school closes that the first right of refusal for use of the building is a charter. 

This isn't just a thing that I'm suspecting. There is a systematic approach to defunding public education. Because, like I said in my testimony, there's a lot of money to be made if public education is not free and appropriate and public for everybody. 

And so what worries me is that, for many reasons, students are going to schools outside the Seattle Public Schools system. When these closures and consolidations come down the line, it is the result of lowered enrollment. And then we're going to be faced with the same problem because it's self-replicating over and over again. As our schools get less resourced, bigger classrooms. That small classroom that teachers and parents and students all want is just not available to them.

I think one of the key things to keep in mind as well is that it's important to fight these fights against these cuts and closures. But it's not enough to push back against cuts. We have to also imagine what a well-resourced school looks like. 

And, I'd really take that opportunity to say a well-resourced school probably has, classes that are in the 17:1 range. And not as an average over... if you factor in the PE teacher and the music teacher and yada, yada. Like the actual, in the room, there is a teacher and then there are 17 students, like physically present in front of them. Because that's what's going to deliver results. 

And so, when we imagine, not just not to be cut down as far as possible, but like what we actually deserve, it's quite a lot more than this. 

And then you do get the pushback of where are we going to get the money for all of these aspirational things.  But that's, at some point eventually, it needs to be their problem to go and get that money and not ours, right? It shouldn't be our problem as teachers and parents to fill in all the gaps and figure out what to do with no money. 

The tide needs to be going in the other direction where it's “no, we need class sizes of 17:1. And if we don't have the money for that, then it's your job to go and find it.” Because that is what is right and true and good. Not just in a moral sense, not just in an ethical sense, not just in a technical, professional, pedagogical sense. It's just, it's all of those things at the same time. And this is what our students deserve.  

[00:28:45] Christie Robertson: Well, it's been great talking with you, Tyler. Thank you so much for telling us your story.

We checked in with teacher Tyler to get an update about how things are going at Orca K-8. And here's what he said. "I think I've actually had it on the easier side, having been assigned students I had last year and being able to use those old relationships to navigate this difficult circumstance. I'm depending on a lot of practices I wouldn't normally use - iPads, rigidly assigned seats. And get this year done and hopefully a normal-ish one to come. And all kinds of careful considerations made to student class arrangements, like who works well with who, who gets along with who, were thrown out the window to make all this work. It's been a struggle for most to say the least. We're also still scrambling to fill every time there's an absence, as I'm sure many other schools are given the sub shortage."

Thank you so much to Tyler. And all of our teachers at all of our schools for making things the best they possibly can be for our kids.

[00:29:47] Jane Tunks Demel: We heard about the difficulties for ORCA's kindergartners amidst displacement and splits. In contrast, Leschi Elementary managed the October crisis by reallocating city levy and PTA monies to avoid losing a teacher and thus prevent any shuffling. Parent Kevin Litwack explains the uncomfortable trade-offs. 

Thank you, Kevin, so much for coming today.

[00:30:10] Kevin Litwack: Yeah, my pleasure.

[00:30:12] Jane Tunks Demel: So tell me, what happened at Leschi?

[00:30:14] Kevin Litwack: I guess I should start by saying we have one 2nd/3rd-grade split in the school right now, but no other splits. As best as we've been able to sort of reconstruct from conversations with our principal, the situation was when we found out about the K-3 staffing ratio requirements, the sort of only way that they could come up with to make the math work was that we needed to shift a 0.5 teacher from 4/5 band to the K-3 band. And there were a small enough number of kids in 4th grade that they could have dropped down from two full 4th grade classes to one full 4th grade class and one 3/4 split. That I guess counts as effectively shifting a half teacher into the K-3 band for the purposes of ratio. 

But then they have to pull those 3rd-grade kids from somewhere to fill that up, and it was this kind of chain effect. If they pull those third-grade kids from the 2/3 split, then now you have this half class of second-graders that need to go somewhere. and there were too many of them to push them into the two second-grade classes, so then you have to add another split somewhere. Then that means you have to then add another split. and so it would have meant a ripple effect, where we would have had to add a number of splits. 

I'm sure there were a dozen different possible configurations that they walked through. But my understanding at the end of the day is that sort of all of them would have involved a bunch of kids across a bunch of grades having to shift classes five weeks into the year.

[00:31:54] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah.

[00:31:54] Kevin Litwack: So, that was obviously not great. And what the principal managed to figure out was that if we could just scrounge up $75,000 to fund an additional 0.5 full time K-3 staff member, then that would solve the problem without any kids having to shuffle classes. 

 The way that we accomplished that was we got $32,000 that the Leschi PTA had already committed to give the school for supplemental funds, which is, like hourly tutors, interventionists, that kind of thing. Shift all of that into paying for this additional staff member, and then cover the remainder, like $43,000 my understanding is, from some application of Seattle City Levy funds. I don't really know the details of exactly how that worked or what that was taking away from, but that was how we managed to cover it.

[00:32:46] Jane Tunks Demel: And so then all the classes got to stay as they were from the beginning of school? 

[00:32:50] Kevin Litwack: Yep, yep, so no students had to be reconfigured. So, that's the good news, is that at least in our case, we managed to avoid any significant student impacts.

[00:33:00] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, and actually that cascading or ripple effect that you're talking about, that did happen at a lot of schools, like Alki, Cedar Park, and there are some others that we've talked to. 

[00:33:10] Kevin Litwack: And, we definitely felt pretty lucky to come away from it unscathed as it were. But also very aware of the fact that we were unscathed, at least in part, because we had PTA funds that could be used for that. And a lot of schools just don't have that option. It made us pretty uncomfortable to be doing that, because we are pretty aware of the PTA funding equity conversation. 

But then, Leschi is a Title I school. There's a significant high needs population, at the school. We also felt like if we didn't do that, the kids who would be most likely to be negatively impacted by a reshuffle are the ones who are furthest from educational equity.

So, at the end of the day, we felt we can avoid that disruption to those kids but it's a bitter pill to swallow. 

 When I was chatting with the Leschi PTA, I think he's the treasurer, maybe now, former president, he knows a bunch about a lot of the goings on here... one of the things that we were reflecting on is, so we're adding the 0.5 FTE, but obviously there's not going to be a half class of kids that has that teacher as their full-time teacher. So there's this kind of... what exactly is that teacher going to be doing? We asked the principal and she basically said “we don't know yet”. And she asked if the PTA wanted to have input into that. And we said, "We more or less trust your judgment." 

But it is this interesting thing of that person is going to be doing something and I'm sure whatever it will be will be valuable. but also, we've now traded off $32,000 worth of hourly tutoring and interventionists and that kind of thing. And are we actually better? Is this, like, a better outcome for the kids? I don't know. Maybe it is but it's certainly unclear. 

 The other last thought that I had is the district has said there were like, what, $3.6 million of state funding at stake here? And, you do the math. The district has, what, 50,000-ish students, so that works out to $70 a student. And Leschi is a 300-student building. So times 70, it's like $21,000 of state funding that we would have lost if we hadn't done this. And in exchange for that $21,000, we just pulled in this $32,000 of PTA funding, this extra levy funding, plus all of the time of all of the staff that have been involved in dealing with this. And it just feels very... inefficient. 

And of course, I mean, you know this, but I can't not at least mention the yeah, really, we need more state funding. 

I guess my one, like, optimistic take would be maybe this in conjunction with all of the other kind of bumps that SPS hitting in the past couple of years hopefully energizes a generation of Seattle parents to decide to actually become politically engaged and really try and push for more state funding in a way that I think hasn't happened in an organized manner in the past few years,

[00:36:12] Christie Robertson: As we close this third chapter of School Shuffle Stories, we hope sharing experiences from across the city fosters empathy and illuminates our common ground. 

[00:36:24] Jane Tunks Demel: Though the context varied at each school, familiar themes rang out around equity, student stability, leadership accountability, and chronic underfunding of public education.

While parents and teachers scrambled admirably to support children through immense disruption, many still feel their communities were shaken to the core by abrupt sweeping changes.

[00:36:45] Christie Robertson: In a future episode, we would like to explore the district policies and budget forces underlying the annual teacher shuffle every October. If you can offer any insights, expertise, or experiences about this, please reach out to us at hello@seattlehallpass.org. 

[00:37:04] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this installment of Seattle Hall Pass. Show notes are available at Seattlehallpass.Org, where you can subscribe or donate to support our work.

[00:37:13] Christie Robertson: It also helps us if you can rate or review us wherever you're listening to this podcast. That helps other people find our show.

I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:37:22] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. Thanks for listening. We hope you'll join us next time. 

 


Olympic Hills
Orca K-8
Leschi