TOPS Site Council will poll members on geographic zone proposal for school

Members of the TOPS@Seward Site Council decided Wednesday evening to poll parents of students at the school about a proposed geographic zone for the school.

The Seattle School Board posted a proposed geographic zone on its website earlier in the week that would include all of Eastlake as well as the Roanoke Park area and part of north Capitol Hill west of 10th Avenue E. and north of E. Galer. 

The site council’s poll, which might be completed within two or three weeks, will ask parents if they A) prefer to not endorse the school district’s proposed zone, or B) would endorse a zone that would include Eastlake and Roanoke Park. An option to endorse the school board’s proposed zone was dropped from the poll.

The zone would be one of the tie breakers (along with whether a sibling attends the school and a lottery) used by the Seattle School District in determining which students attend the Eastlake school. Option schools like TOPS draw students from all over the city and the tie breakers help determine who will get in. Eastlake activists have sought for years to find a way to allow more local students to attend TOPS.

When the geographic zone was first discussed last year, the Eastlake Community Council had proposed that all of Eastlake from I-5 west to the houseboats and north from E. Galer to the University Bridge be included in the zone. The district ran out of time to set the zone for 2010-2011 and continued a policy already in place to allow a number of kindergarten slots at the school to be set aside for Eastlake children.

Jules James, a neighborhood activist who has been working on the attendance question for TOPS@Seward for 23 years, said he was adopting a stance of “not smaller than.” The idea, he said, was that the minimum size for the zone should be defined so that local residents would have some predictability about their children’s chances of attending the school. Without a minimum size, he told the site council, the zone might flex too much year-to-year to allow that predictability.

One of the draws for TOPS for many parents is the school’s diversity. Some on the site council worried that increasing the size of the geographic zone might threaten that diversity because more children from the less-diverse Eastlake and Roanoke Park neighborhoods would be able to attend. James noted that 80 percent of the residents of Eastlake are tenants and “that’s a type of diversity, too.” He also noted the diversity of lifestyles in the neighborhood.

Also threatening the school’s diversity is a school district plan to eliminate money to transport children from other parts of the city to the school. Sity council members had hoped to see transportation for current students continued for five years, but the district has yet to commit to that.

Although James urged members of the site council to endorse a geographic zone plan soon so as to get their voice out in front of the school board at the start of the debate, most members of the site council felt they needed to know more about the plans and how the school’s community might feel about them before casting a vote.

Janis White of the site council noted that while there was value in reaching out to the school’s community to find out what parents think about the proposed geographic zone, “we should take those views with a grain of salt” because many people may not be familiar with the issues involved.

The site council hopes to have a web-based survey ready by the weekend.

To see a map of the district’s proposed geographic zone, see our previous post.