Friday, December 10, 2010

Salmon Bay Preference for Thornton Creek Graduates

Who: Children of all grades attending Thornton Creek. It is never too early to consider middle school options.

What: Please sign this petition at

Why: Our predecessors, in the late 1980s, had the same desire for an alternative middle school pathway. The result was New Option Middle School, or NOMS, which was located in the Washington (Central Seattle) and Old Hay (Queen Anne) buildings before merging with an Alternative Elementary (#5, Coho) in 1999 at their current Ballard location. Currently, Thornton Creek is the only alternative elementary school in the city that does not have an alternative middle school assignment. In the past, Thornton Creek students have received a preferential assignment to Salmon Bay in recognition shared history and program similarity.

Further Action: Board members are skeptical, and it is a nuanced situation difficult to communicate in talking points. However, a sample letter is provided below (Dec 5 post) for email (, and face-to-face conversations are greatly encouraged. The board does seem fond of ensuring a “pathway” for language immersion students, and I like to remind them of our similar situation. We can acknowledge this is a short-term fix, and express our willingness to find a long-term solution when the dust from the student assignment plan settles.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sample Salmon Bay Preference Letter (12/5/10)


Please continue the preference assignment tiebreaker for Thornton Creek 5th graders for enrollment in 6th grade at Salmon Bay School. Given the absence of a viable alternative middle school (as opposed to an option K-8 with a traditional educational philosophy) that TC 5th graders can attend, we request that the Salmon Bay preference be continued until such viable alternative middle school is established.

Thornton Creek is currently the only alternative school in the district that does not have a middle school program and for years has received the Salmon Bay preference. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement since Salmon Bay was the only alternative 6-8 program that added seats over its elementary grade level capacity.

The educational philosophy of Thornton Creek is compatible with Salmon Bay. This preference allows students of Thornton Creek - whose families have committed to an educational philosophy very similar to that of Salmon Bay Middle School - to have access to that philosophy and approach though 8th grade. This is similar to the educational continuity provided for students at TOPS, Pathfinder, APP program, language immersion programs, and so on.

Removing this program preference will negatively impact Thornton Creek as parents seek the greater security that enrolling their child at schools like Salmon Bay during the elementary years provides. Many families are considering private schools in the absence of the alternative middle school preference. Salmon Bay may suffer from the loss of TC families who are vital to the success of Salmon Bay Middle School because the students and parents are already familiar with both the educational philosophy of the program and the amount of family involvement this type of educational approach requires. Finally, with crowding at Eckstein continuing to increase, it benefits that school as well to minimize extra students coming in at this time.

Thank you for considering my request for the Salmon Bay preference for Thornton Creek 5th graders.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Great things

This is a thread for random wonderful things at your alternative school.

Such as: The jumping corner

If you've been through kindergarten, you know a large part of it is learning to sit and listen. In alternative schools we have a reputation for sitting as little as possible, but you do need to be able to have a meeting, read a story, or give field trip instructions. In my child's kindergarten class several years ago there was a little alcove created by some bookshelves for "getting your jumps out."

I like this idea for lots of reasons. For one thing, it recognizes that sitting still is not the goal, it just helps everybody to listen undistracted. For another, it is much more effective than the standard elementary tactic of taking recess away from the rowdies. Most of all, it teaches the kids how to manage their energy, to recognize when they need to take a break so they can come back and focus. As an example, my kid, at 8 or 9, was able to spend entire evenings playing cards with her grandparents by taking self-imposed "cartwheel breaks" when she needed them.

A new school year

Here is a thread to share stories about the beginning of the school year 2009-10. I've been waiting for something to happen, and it did. Today there was a classroom agreement on the kindergarten wall. This happens every year, in every classroom at our school, but since I'm back in kindergarten again, the moment has its magic.

Classroom agreements are consistent with the idea of shared decision-making and giving students some ownership of their educational journey. The class together decides on the kind of environment they need to feel safe, happy, and learn. Although they reach the same sort of "rules" a traditional teacher might hand down (take turns talking, listen respectfully, stay in your own space, etc.) they are in the words of the children, who have really given some thought to what guidelines are needed and why.

It does really change the dynamic. I've been in a classroom to see a teacher gesture at the agreement and say "remember what we decided about voices during [this kind of activity]?" It is a different thing an order or even a request to quiet down. The kids are nodding. They did decide.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A vision for all schools

Although I envision this blog for a lay audience, I am going to venture into school board policy now. The reason is that the answer to "what is an alternative school" is spelled out in a board policy adopted in 2006. The link is here.

This policy was a result of the alternative community getting together and working long and hard to describe what they held in common. It's very general, which I why I hope to flesh it out on this blog with real stories, but I think it's a valid and useful starting point.

Current district leadership is hesitant to really get behind the policy, in part because they say it is what should be the vision for all schools. We say great! We're approaching it in very real and sometimes different ways in our schools; come and see.

The policy, already an abbreviated distillation, can be further collapsed into 5 "bullet-points." I'm going to create 5 posts below to contain our stories that fill out the details.

My own observation is that while you hear some of these ideas on many kindergarten tours at SPS traditional schools, and may actually see some them in a classroom here and there, there will be very different things going on in the class next door. The difference is that in an Alternative school you have the entire school community working together to approach this vision.

I. Complete and personalized education

"Students, families and staff share and support the school’s philosophy, values, practices and mission to educate the "whole" child in a community based on a high degree of personalization. "

This is a thread to discuss how alternative schools are attempting to reach this goal.

II. Shared decision making

"Program design includes a shared decision making model."

This thread will show you what shared decision making looks like.