Capitol Hill is getting back its middle school in 2017, but there are a lot of questions to answer before it opens. Will students attend based purely on their elementary school or can home address play a factor? Who will be the principal? Can the school have an arts or technology focus?
And, perhaps most importantly, what will be the Meany Middle School mascot?
Parents gathered in the school’s 21st and E Republican Meany library last week to hear from the district about how it plans to answer some of those questions and the next steps for re-creating the new school.
“We are a very diverse city and we want a school that represents that, and serves it,” said Andy Jensen, father of two Meany-bound children. Jensen is part of a group with Meany-bound kids part of a Facebook group to connect future Meany parents ahead of the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
Catchment areas have long been a top concern for parents when it comes to Meany. For most families, students from Stevens and Lowell would join those from Gatzert, Madrona (K-8), McGilvra, and Montlake in the new school. (UPDATE: “Montlake, Leschi, Stevens, Lowell, and McGilvra. Madrona K-8 middle school-aged students will be included if the Seattle School Board approves that boundary in May or September,” Jensen clarified in comments, below). However, some families near school boundaries said they want the option to choose a school that may be closer to their homes. The Seattle school board ultimately make a final call on catchment areas in a decision expected to come by this fall at the latest.
The first major order of business will be hiring a principal. Sarah Pritchett, executive director of schools for the central region, told parents Wednesday night that more than 100 candidates have already expressed an interest in the rare opportunity to essentially build a public school from scratch. SPS is currently looking for parents to sit on a committee to help vet candidates (e-mail Pritchett for more information).
“We want a dynamic principal,” Pritchett said. “We don’t want someone who is just going to come in and do your basic middle school.”
The new principal will have a year to develop a vision for the school that is expected to serve around 900 students. A group of SPS professionals will also be there to help steer the school’s mission and values during the planning year.
Officials decided to reopen the middle school largely based on demographic studies conducted by Seattle Schools and a hired demographic expert. From the studies, SPS forecasted a steady increase in middle school student enrollment for the Central Region through around 2020. At the time of the study, the area had not yet emerged from an economic slowdown that the analysis concluded would contribute to the growth in middle school enrollment in the coming years. With the drop in housing values, SPS believed people would be staying put and not moving to the suburbs. While that prediction may have come true, it’s not because housing values didn’t rise. On another factor, school officials seemed to have had more solid evidence. The improving transportation infrastructure, has indeed, made living in the city a more attractive option.
As a not-yet-shaped middle school in the middle of a growing area of the city, Meany’s options are wide open, according to SPS, providing a unique opportunity for parent and community input. Some parents have already expressed an interest in mentoring and restorative justice programs, or a school focused on science and technology. Parents and the new principal will also be able to shape the offerings of core classes and electives. Washington state history will be required.
“It’s an open slate for the direction of the school,” Pritchett said. “It’s really exciting.”
A $14.2 million upgrade is already under way on the Meany campus, which currently houses the World School. A renovation of the entire building will start this summer, including re-roofing and earthquake retrofitting.
SPS closed Meany Middle School 2009, allowing for the Nova Alternative High School and the World School program to move in. Nova has since moved back to its home in the Horace Mann building on E Cherry and the World School will move to an overhauled TT Minor on E Union next year.