Seattle Public Schools is moving the Developmental Preschool program at Whittier Elementary School in Ballard to Viewlands Elementary in North Greenwood/Crown Hill next year. But, some parents in the Developmental Preschool are upset because they weren’t involved in the decision-making process, and they were given very little notice.
The Developmental Preschool is located on the bottom floor of Whittier Elementary.
The district says it is moving the program because it anticipates higher enrollment at Whittier in the next few years, and may need an extra classroom. Whittier’s boundaries include the western edge of parts of Phinney Ridge and Greenwood.
Amy Thompson, whose 4-year-old daughter, Ava, has attended the Developmental Preschool for the last two years, says the district apparently made the decision in February, but didn’t notify parents until Monday. She said the district posted a letter on its website on Feb. 17 detailing various district-wide Special Education changes, and the preschool change consisted of one line in that document. But no one from the district or Whittier Elementary notified parents of that letter on the website.
“It was deeply buried,” Thompson says of the notice. “And who’s going to go looking for that if they don’t know to look for it?”
Thompson says she heard about the move last Thursday from Whittier Principal Linda Robinson. Preschool families received a notification letter on Monday, and that same letter was sent home with all Whittier students on Tuesday.
Here is an excerpt from the letter by Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent for Operations:
At this time, we have tentatively planned to maintain the same number of homerooms currently at Whittier; however, the situation is such that we need to be prepared to add a homeroom as additional Open Enrollment date becomes available. This type of decision obviously needs to be made in advance. In anticipation of potential space needs for an additional homeroom at Whittier next year, we have decided to relocate the Developmental Preschool to Viewlands Elementary beginning in the 2012-13 school year. Consideration was given to the addition of a portable; however it was determined to be unfeasible.
SPS also says it is studying the need for additional Development Preschools at other sites throughout the district, including North Seattle.
The Whittier PTA has formally opposed the move, arguing that Whittier’s enrollment figures do not necessitate another homeroom next year. On Monday, the PTA sent a letter to district officials (see end of this post for the full letter).
Thompson said her family’s reference school is Adams Elementary, but they chose to enroll their 6-year-old son, Campbell, in kindergarten at Whittier this year, so he and his sister could attend the same school. With the preschool moving to Whittier, they will be split up.
Thompson said she understands school capacity issues, but the real issue is with timely notification. Since the Open Enrollment period has passed, she no longer has the option of moving her son to Viewlands next year, to keep her children at the same school.
“If it is a foregone conclusion that the program is moving, at a minimum, just give us a year of transition to work these issues out,” she pleaded.
Thompson says routines and structure are especially important for children with developmental issues. Her daughter has significant development delays and requires intensive speech, occupational and physical therapy. When Ava started going to the Developmental Preschool program at the age of 3, she used a walker to get around. Today she walks independently, and Thompson attributes that to the teachers and intense therapy at the preschool.
“All of them require a special level of education services, so whether it comes in the form of cognitive therapy, learning or physical therapy, their routines are very structured that way,” she explains. “It takes a while to develop that routine with your educators.”
She’s worried about the same level of services being available at Viewlands, after the district informed parents that the new Developmental Preschool room at Viewlands is not equipped for physical therapy, as it is at Whittier.
“Not having those things in place is a pretty big setback to their progress and overall development plan,” she says.
Thompson says the preschool has done a great job of integrating with the regular education program at Whittier, even having 5th graders as learning buddies for the preschoolers.
“The great thing about it is that as a parent with two typically developing children and one atypically developing, is it integrates the learning environment. So our whole family can participate, instead of Ava being off to one side.”
Parents in the preschool program have started an online petition to ask the district to hold off on moving the program for one year.
We contacted Seattle Public Schools yesterday for more information on the decision-making process to close the preschool. We will update this post when we hear back.
(Disclosure: My son goes to Whittier, but has no connection to the Developmental Preschool.)
Here’s the letter from the Whittier PTA to the Seattle School Board, opposing the preschool’s move:
To: Seattle School Board
From: Lisa Melenyzer & April Brown, on behalf of the Whittier PTA General Membership
Date: March 19, 2012
RE: Relocation of Whittier Developmental Preschool
The following letter is written on behalf of the PTA families and supporters of the Whittier Elementary School Developmental Preschool program. The program has been a powerful tool in serving the developmental needs of area children, providing a high quality early education environment and helping each student to realize their full potential. The program and its students have been put at risk as the classroom has been slated to relocate to another school next year. The PTA is formally requesting a reversal of that decision, maintaining the program at Whittier Elementary.
There are four primary reasons to reverse this decision on behalf of the students, faculty and parents at Whittier Elementary:
1. Capacity is a Non-issue
• This migration decision was purportedly motivated by concerns about classroom capacity at Whittier Elementary, however, the District-projected enrollment provided with Whittier’s Budget Allocation indicate that Whittier is expecting a decrease in enrollment, down to 451 from the October 2011 headcount of 460 students.
• A letter written to the Whittier community in January of 2012 by Pegi McEvoy indicated that if “enrollment is not as high as anticipated, we will not add an additional homeroom.” With no increase in enrollment, and no additional staffing for another homeroom, there appear to be no plans for 2012-13 for the classroom currently housing the Developmental Preschool.
2. The Decision for Program Migration Lacks Thoughtful Planning
• Despite a posting of the program change on February 17, 2012, students and families have yet to receive formal notice about the change, thus they were not afforded the opportunity to make alternative plans for siblings during the Open Enrollment period.
• Students and families were not consulted during the decision making process.
• Program officials have yet to confirm availability of Intensive services (e.g. speech, occupational therapies) or provide any insight on staffing positions in the new classroom.
• With principal changes planned this year for Whittier and Viewlands schools, the best way to ensure stability in the Developmental Preschool program is to let it continue in its present form with the support of the Whittier community.
3. The Decision Does Not Consider the Best Interests of our Children
• Disruption to learning environment removes routines and consistency which are critical for children with developmental needs.
• The move will divide families with siblings attending Whittier Elementary across two schools increasing demands on resources (e.g. travel) and reducing parental involvement (e.g. two PTAs, teacher conferences).
4. The Decision Does Not Honor the Interests of our Educators and Whittier Elementary
• Educators, administrators and the Whittier Elementary community were not sufficiently involved in decision-making processes.
• Removing the Developmental Preschool program reduces diversity and makes the school less representative of the community it serves.
• The Whittier staff has a proven track record of working collaboratively with the Preschool team and sharing resources to improve the experience of both the preschool and K-5 populations.
Given the lack of thoughtful planning, negative impact to children, families, educators and Whittier Elementary, the PTA is formally requesting a reversal of the relocation decision. In absence of a rationale to the contrary, we feel that a move at this time is unjustified and unnecessarily destabilizes the preschool population. Please consult with the District and ensure that the children and families served by the Developmental Preschool are being served appropriately and protected from unnecessary tumult.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your speedy response to this request.
Lisa Melenyzer and April Brown
Co-Presidents of the Whittier PTA
On behalf of the General Membership of the Whittier PTA