After years of discussion and debate, the Seattle School Board passed the latest portion of its New School Assignment Plan on Wednesday evening. The plan includes a geographic zone for TOPS@Seward School in Eastlake that will give neighborhood kids more predictable access to the school.
The geographic zone is a new tiebreaker the district will use in determining which students can attend the school. The other tiebreakers are whether a sibling already attends the school and a lottery.
TOPS@Seward is an option school that draws students from many parts of the city, not just Eastlake. Neighborhood parents and activists have been trying for years to find a way to allow more Eastlake children to attend the school. The larger geographic zone is seen as one way of achieving that goal.
The geographic zone approved by the school board includes all of Eastlake west of I-5 to the houseboats. It also includes the Roanoke Park area north of 520 to Portage Bay. (See attached map.)
Eastlake activists had argued for years that improved access to TOPS@Seward for local kids was important in making the neighborhood attractive to families with children.
“Predictable access to TOPS is key to promoting Eastlake as family-friendly,” said Eastlake parent and schools activist Michelle Buetow. “Now, instead of young families leaving the area when their kids hit kindergarten age — a 15-year trend — they can be encouraged to stay, with the promise of nine years of excellent SPS education in its front yard at TOPS. In return, the school gets a strong base of steady support for its program, and community resources of time and funding that are increasingly important as public education funding from the state is diminishing.”
No one has spent longer on this issue than Eastlake businessman and schools activist Jules James. His children attended Seward and he has pushed for years to find a way to get more neighborhood kids in. After the vote, James said, “Our task ahead is to re-populate Eastlake with school-aged kids. Eastlake should be Seattle’s test-bed for building a child-compatible modern urban neighborhood.”
He added: “I’m entirely thrilled. Rowdy Eastlakian applause is well-deserved for the district’s Director of Enrollment Tracy Libros, whose idea of GeoZones was better than any solution we brought to them over all these years.”
And Chris Leman, president of the Eastlake Community Council (which had pushed for the geozone that passed), said:
“Last night’s School Board action realizes a longtime priority of the Eastlake Community Council, and of the Eastlake Neighborhood Plan. The neighborhood’s mobilization was crucial. But the change would not have happened without majority support from the parent representatives on the TOPS Site Council, and the leadership of Eastlake residents Michelle Buetow and Jules James, whose children have attended TOPS and who wanted other Eastlake children to have the same opportunity. On behalf of Eastlakers now and for generations to come, thank you!”
One cloud hanging over Wednesday’s decision is that some students who live outside the TOPS@Seward transportation zone, which is based on later attendance at Washington Middle School, may lose their bus transportation to the school. A proposal introduced at Wednesday’s meeting would reduce the district’s bus fleet by 80, eliminating bus service for students from many parts of the city.
TOPS draws from many parts of Seattle. Many parents at the school value the diversity that wide draw creates and they are worried that eliminating the bus service will harm that aspect of the school. Parents protested the proposed cuts last Friday (Jan. 14) by asking parents of students who would lose their bus service to drive their kids to school. (See our previous post.)
Maps of the new transportation will be coming out next week.