Amid the crowd that filled the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors meeting room on June 18 stood several students, each with distinct signboards saying “#WeAreNotThrowAways.”
These students are recent graduates of Middle College High School in High Point, West Seattle. In late May, Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Larry Nyland informed families that the district will not be renewing the school’s lease in High Point Center, citing declining enrollment and the fact that the district could save more than $28,000 each year in rent, salary, and other expenses at the school.
Middle College is an alternative high school and college preparatory program with a social justice-based curriculum. It offers at-risk students or students who dropped out with another chance to obtain a high school diploma.
Students at MCHS High Point, many of whom reside in West or South Seattle, will have the option to transfer to the North Seattle locations such as ones at the University of Washington, Seattle University, or Northgate Mall. They could also transfer to regular high schools in the district.
Alonzo Ybarra, longtime MCHS High Point teacher and MCHS graduate, said during the meeting that he still could not understand why the SPS is closing MCHS High Point.
“We have students who come to us homeless, hungry, bullied, harassed, and just wanting something different,” Ybarra said. “[Our school is] so small, that the investment seems quite worth it. I saw $28,000. With the work that we do, the lives that we save, that seems like a darn good investment.”
At the school board meeting, students, graduates, and staff members of MCHS High Point spoke to the directors during the public comment section. They claimed the SPS’ reasons for closing MCHS High Point were based on inaccuracies.
According to a document released by MCHS High Point staff, enrollment numbers were down due to several factors, the first being MCHS Principal Cindy Nash “derailed” the student recruitment plan by “unnecessarily changing High Point’s schedule and removing a staff member without cause whom she knew was integral” for student recruitment.
Second, the document stated, in April, Nash was directed to stop enrolling any new students until SPS Superintendent Larry Nyland made a decision on the High Point’s lease at the High Point Center, thus preventing the school from adding more students.
Despite remarks from Middle College teachers during the board meeting, Marty McLaren, director of District VI where MCHS High Point is located, said she is hearing two different stories about MCHS at High Point. In addition to positive stories told by teachers and students, she has also heard from staff members and other administrative officials who “legitimately question how well we’ve served the students at High Point.”
“The important thing is that we as a district … are creatively finding the best ways to serve these students,” McLaren said.
Boo Balkan Foster, a teacher at High Point, said during the public comments section that she has not met with any district official about the matter, but first heard about the potential closure from McLaren’s meetings. The reasons for the closure, Foster claimed, were based on inaccuracies.
“One [reasoning was] teachers ‘created a climate that was not welcoming to students’ and now as a result my student enrollment dropped,” Foster said. “What I do everyday is if they’re hungry I feed them, if they need winter coats, I buy them. If they need to be put in a homeless shelter I don’t do that, my staff and I put them in a hotel because they’re victimized in shelters. Then after we get them safe, we buy the books … And after I created that same nurturing, mothering environment, I tie my instruction to the Common Core and they pass the state tests.”
But High Point’s closing isn’t the only disruption to the Middle College schools. At the Ida B. Wells School of Social Justice—Middle College’s UW branch—founding teacher Rogelio Rigor was also recently displaced due to a technicality on teacher endorsements on which the district did not provide any flexibility.
Rigor was only endorsed to teach math, but could teach math, biology and also focuses on climate justice because the school was designated as an alternative school. Recently, the district said they can no longer allow out-of-endorsement instructor to serve as science instructor at Middle College schools. He lost his job at Ida B. Wells and have been instructed to report to the Center School.
At the Ida B. Wells School’s graduation on June 9, several students and community members also staged a protest voicing their concerns about changes to the school.
While most board members haven’t spoken much publicly on matters regarding the Middle College schools, a minority did address it during their comments portion of the June 18 meeting.
“I am very much in favor of the Middle College model, I think we need to fix it,” said Sharon Peaslee, vice president of the board and director of District I. “It bothers me that we keep shutting down campuses—I think we need to do a review of the Middle College model and fix what’s broken.”
Sue Peters, director of District IV, said she fully supports Middle College but still “remains unclear” on what has happened with MCHS at High Point.
Both Rigor and Ybarra said they still haven’t heard discussions from the district about the changes. But, they also believe in the power in numbers. On Wednesday, July 1 at 4:00 p.m., Middle College community members will once again attend the SPS board meeting to advocate for the schools.
“The community will not stop,” Rigor said. “The community’s moving forward, and the community will make it a point that the district explains why a program that’s working for struggling students is suddenly being closed or disrupted.”