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KUOW: District didn’t want us to visit this struggling Seattle school… on Capitol Hill

E Mercer’s Lowell Elementary (Image: CHS)

Everybody — including CHS — focused on the drama around the Lowell Elementary S Path was missing a larger, more pressing need for many students at the Capitol Hill elementary school: a place in the city to call home.

In a moving and frustrating report, KUOW documents the school’s astounding 20% homelessness rate for students and the reportedly shaky educational environment the budget-strapped school district has in place for the kids:

Lowell Elementary School sits across from million-dollar houses on a quiet street in Capitol Hill. But this school serves some of the poorest children in the city.

The percentage of homeless students in Seattle Public Schools has doubled in the past five years. As of spring, 7 percent of the student population lacked a permanent address. That number is much smaller at some schools, and much larger in others.

At Lowell, 20 percent of students were homeless at last count.

The KUOW report cites high staff turnover and talks with former assistant Na’Ceshia Holmes about how Seattle Public Schools is not doing enough for homeless kids and children of color:

“It seems like the same people who continue to not have a voice,” Holmes said. “The same people who continue to get what they ask for.” Holmes said the district doesn’t go nearly far enough to support schools that need the most help — like one where one-fifth of students have no permanent address. And she said if help comes at the expense of affluent schools, that’s okay.

It has been a while since CHS visited Lowell. In 2014, we met new principal Dr. Marion Smith as the school set out to reinvent itself and restore parent confidence. Today, Lowell is led by Colleen Stump who most recently served as an interim principal after parent pushback helped force a change in leadership at nearby Stevens Elementary, a school with some of the most powerfully parent-funded programs in the city. Full disclosure: My own kids attend Stevens.

Resources that end up at Stevens and not Lowell are only part of the problem. The challenges for a school like Lowell should also throw the tangles in Olympia into the spotlight. Here is Rep. Jamie Pedersen — another Stevens parent — from earlier this year on the never ending budget battle with state Republicans. You can also add the ongoing strength of private schools as both a cause and a symptom for funding woes.

The KUOW report points out not every solution has to be expensive and there is more we could be doing to support homeless students and students of color. But at the core, there is also the tragedy of homelessness. “The goal is to not let them know that you live in a shelter, so they can’t really judge you about it,” a fourth-grader say of life on the schoolyard. “When they ask you where you live, you just say, ‘I don’t wanna talk about it.'”

There is much more in the KUOW report. It’s worth a full read.

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7 thoughts on “KUOW: District didn’t want us to visit this struggling Seattle school… on Capitol Hill

  1. Well it’s not a money issue. According to SPS’s website, they spend $12,987 per student per year at Lowell.

    At a typical northside elementary school? $6,000 – 7,0000 a year per student.

    • Do PTA expenditures include providing meals or other assistance for some kids who might otherwise go hungry, or go without other needs? If they do, might that explain the difference compared to northside schools with fewer homeless kids?

  2. “Do PTA expenditures include providing meals”

    Meals for low income families are paid for by Federal assistance directly to SPS.

    • That answers half the question. With 20% of the students homeless, it’s reasonable to suspect they’re in need of other things too, besides food. Does the PTA provide anything else to these kids? Without knowing that, you can’t assume anything about whether it’s a money issue or not.

  3. Everyone should listen to the KUOW piece – I guarantee the voice of that 4th grader will stay with you.

    KUOW:Matthew Hicks said he gets picked on a lot, and that turning to adults at the school is often a dead end.

    “They’ll be like, ‘Yeah, yeah, you guys gotta settle it. You’re fourth-grade now. You guys gotta do it by yourselves.’ Do it by ourselves? We’re still little. I can’t do that!”