LETTER: ‘Highline Public Schools must fix ‘Separate but Equal’ Policy’

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a Letter to the Editor, written by a Reader. It does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The B-Town Blog nor its staff:]

Highline Schools must fix “Separate but Equal” Policy

Public schools can be our great American equalizer by providing all children the educational foundation to succeed in college, pursue careers and chase dreams. Unfortunately, not all schools are equal! Right here in the Highline School District, we have enormous disparity between neighborhood high schools.

I live in North Highline, one of two areas the Highline School District mandates a small-high-school-only policy and bars selecting one of the full-to-capacity comprehensive high schools at Highline and Mount Rainier. Families in the Mount Rainier and Highline service areas can attend their assigned traditional high school or any of the district’s small high schools.

Students in the Evergreen and Tyee service areas are required to attend 300-student, themed schools offering core classes and severely limited electives and clubs. Students in the Highline and Mount Rainier service areas can participate in the full range of courses unavailable at small schools, including a college preparatory curriculum, physical education program, Fine Arts, Music, vocational classes and a wide variety of electives and clubs.

Two years ago, Dr. Enfield was interviewed for The B-Town (Burien) Blog, and the new Superintendent immediately noted the district’s high school inequities. She said, “A kid who is assigned to Evergreen is going to potentially have a very different experience than a student assigned to Highline or Mount Rainier.” She goes on to say, “You have a traditional high school that, given its size and scale, can provide things that the smaller campuses can’t provide. That is where I struggle. We are assigning kids to schools and, by doing that, we are forcing them to make choices that perhaps they are not wanting to make – giving up band, giving up advanced placement classes because a smaller school just can’t provide those.”

Dr. Enfield identified this glaring district inequity immediately upon her arrival, and yet, two years later, Evergreen and Tyee service area families are still struggling to find high schools for their kids! While the district enrollment is booming, total enrollment at Evergreen, for example, has consistently dropped since the change to small schools…300 students less than in 2007. At the same time, Highline and Mount Rainier are bursting at the seams.

What are our options if we do not want to attend Evergreen? Expensive private school, apply for the few lottery spots allotted to our area for the IB program at Mount Rainier or at Aviation High School, find schools out of the district, or even move.

I drive a carpool every morning to the Vashon Ferry to drop off my son, joining what equals busloads of Highline kids who commute to Vashon Island so they can attain an excellent comprehensive education in the Vashon schools. I drive my other son to West Seattle High School, because the added time taking a ferry to and from Vashon would make it impossible for him to participate in swim team after school.

We are lucky to have found high school fits for our kids, but most North Highline and Tyee service area citizens cannot drive their kids all over the map at personal expense every day. Nor should they be expected to! This unfair policy based solely on one’s address has created hardship on our communities by limiting kids’ educational opportunities, and potentially, college and career success.

Superintendent Enfield defends the small-school-only policy as equitable by pointing out the high graduation rate at one of the eight small schools, which of course has nothing to do with equitable course and program opportunities. Board members Dorsey and Spear summarized at a school board meeting on April 1, 2015 that they thought Tyee and Evergreen were no good as traditional high schools, and they have no desire to address the high demand for traditional high school programs by possibly converting one of the small high school campuses to a traditional high school.

The message to Tyee and Evergreen families is, “It’s small high schools for you, or leave the district! No traditional high school available for your child in Highline! And thank you for your taxes.”

Incredibly, Highline’s Superintendent and School Board supports this discriminatory “Separate but Equal” policy! Live on the wrong side of the tracks in the Highline School District, and those families can expect secondary schools with stripped down programs, inequitable course and club opportunities, insufficient school funding, and inferior facilities.

A continuous stream of effected parents, students and community members show up and speak out for school and program equity at school board meetings and coffee chats. Highline leadership would rather ignore the howling than commit to the heavy lifting of providing high school equity across the district for ALL Highline students.

Superintendent Enfield and the Highline School Board recently rolled out a new, “Bold,” and “Visionary” Strategic Plan with “Equity” as one of its four pillars. Their first priority must be to dismantle this regressive and oppressive “Separate but Equal” secondary schools policy, and provide equitable high school programs for all district students.

– Sarah Gengler Dahl

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17 Responses to “LETTER: ‘Highline Public Schools must fix ‘Separate but Equal’ Policy’”
  1. Kathleen Waters says:

    Thanks to Ms. Dahl for her exposition of a serious school problem that appears to be doomed regarding a fix. Ironically, the HSD sent out a survey today asking for input on how they can better prepare a bond for 2016. This story doesn’t match up with their stated intent to work with the community and find out what people want. . , with the implied idea that they are already meeting student’s needs but just have a few problems with overcrowding.

    With this letter to the editor in hand, how can anyone support the idea of voting for a bond from a school district that is determined to discriminate against students in particular geographic areas?

    I’m sickened by this information which is totally new to me. . . . As for Dorsey and Spears, why would anyone who has the responsibility of making such important decisions about children condone this discriminatory policy? Two sizes does not fit all. One size – a fully functioning high school that offers all academic and physical needs is the ONLY school that should be designated as a high school. The idea that we would vote for more buildings while keeping a discrimination policy in place regarding what students can learn is pure hogwash. Worse, it is damaging to the students who have no choice because of where they live. If we believe that students are in a highly developmental phase of their young lives then how do we justify limiting what they can be exposed to and what subjects they can learn by mere coincidence of where they live?

    Spears, Dorsey and all board members should start running the school district. If the superintendent is unwilling or incapable of taking direction that equalizes educational opportunities then she should be replaced. So far, Spears and Dorsey aren’t demonstrating their desire to act responsibly on behalf of high school students in the Evergreen and Tyee catchment areas so voters may need to start there – election of new board members – for a fix.

    • jenny says:

      Who did they send the survey out to? Was is just parents and teachers, or did they include all of the HSD residents this time? Hopefully they send it through the mail because most people in the community would not answer a survey on their website.

  2. future Evergreen parent says:

    My experience of the board is an attitude of “shut up and go away” to the North Highline parents who do come to speak out. They stone wall us and declare they’re tired of the complaining, but they are, as stated, happy to take our tax money. If they back up their policies then they can send their own children/grandchildren to the smaller schools. The board is totally neglectful. North Highline families, keep pushing back, keep speaking up–it’s the only way we can create equitability for ALL Highline students.

  3. Mr. Hand says:

    Small schools has always been a sham and has been abandoned by even its once biggest supporter Bill Gates. But our clueless school board keeps buying into its (lack of) merits. Meanwhile the two schools with some money and influence got rid of small schools years ago and the two schools without much money and influence spin their wheels with an education model that costs to much and teaches too little. Time for the school board and the superintendent to stand up to the brainwashed admins of the small schools and end this failed experiment.

  4. jimmy says:

    here is somthing I found on the city of sea-tac website to give you a little information this program back in about 2006

    Highline School District

    The high school program aims to prepare every student for further learning after high school. HSD believes students need a more personalized approach to learning than is provided in a traditional comprehensive high school, so students in all high schools are grouped in small learning communities. These small learning communities take different forms at each of the high schools. The work of redesigning our high schools has been supported in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
    In addition to the high schools serving our four geographic service areas, Highline also has the only aviation-themed college prep high school in the nation. Aviation High School is operated in partnership with King County and many aviation industry partners. Located in Des Moines, enrollment is open to all high school students in King County by application.
    Highline voters passed capital construction bonds in 2002 and 2006. This is allowing Highline to replace many aging school buildings with new state-of-the-art schools.
    Highline students have the advantage of living and learning in a community with rich cultural diversity. Our students represent about 80 nationalities and speak 70 different languages. Because the schools reflect the diversity students will face in the workplace of tomorrow, students will be well-prepared to live and work in the global economy and multicultural world of the future.

  5. Debbie Gard says:

    Thank you for continuing to speak out about this issue. You have found good solutions to this problem for your family, but feel passionate about how this affects the community as a whole and keep fighting. Our family also chooses to send our children to a different district so they can have the high school experience that every student deserves. Having a wide range of academic choices is a large part of what we are looking for, but we also want our children to have freedom to explore their areas of interest through arts and sports that would not be available at a small school. As much as my children like the school they attend outside our district and have made many friends, they would still prefer to have had the choice to stay in the neighborhood and go to school with lifelong friends.

    Highline, please hear our voices and don’t discount us as just a few disgruntled families. Some families have the means and time it takes to find alternative solutions to attending Evergreen, many families in North Highline don’t. All children deserve equal educational opportunities in the Highline School District.

  6. Kathleen Waters says:

    Perhaps all the messages that were posted here during the bond discussion reflect the larger perception that the HSD doesn’t funciton at a level that satisfies parent’s expectations. I am familiar with a fairly good number of fifth graders who will not be returning to Marvista next year. The choice of the parents to move their children to private schools started as a result of the false start that all fifth graders would be moving into middle schools at the start of the 15-16 school year. I have a thought that when that decision was vacated, many parents had already started comparison based selection between private schools and the HSD middle schools. For many, the choice was clear – private schools. This capability to move children to private schools reflects an economic advantage for a select few in the district, I really commend Ms Dahl and others who are willing to stay the course and fight for the kids that don’t have the advantage of parents who can afford private schools. Meanwhile, they and all of us pay the taxes and are asked to vote for a bond that will support discrimination thru its management by the district and superintendent.

  7. Joe says:

    I am also grateful Sarah has put this very frustrating subject out there! I have two children in elementary school, a 3rd and 5th grader. When it was announced 6th grade was moving to middle school next year, my wife and I started doing more research into our options. So many families in our neighborhood have opted for Vashon. I unfortunately think we too are headed that way but we would MUCH rather stay in our own area, for so many reasons. However, I do not believe the required schools our children must attend, Cascade and Evergreen, will prepare them for success or give them the overall school experience children deserve.

    I will be attending the discussion with Superintendent Enfield on 4/27 at Evergreen and hope all of you who support change will also attend so that she and the school board can hear us.

  8. shari says:

    Parents and kids in Highline are feeling the same frustrations and fears and senses of outrage at inequity based on geography that many other low income districts around the country are facing. The Gov of PA remarks on the repulsiveness of the idea that the quality of yr child’s education is based on zip code. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/pa-schools-are-the-nations-most-inequitable-the-new-governor-wants-to-fix-that/2015/04/22/3d2f4e3e-e441-11e4-81ea-0649268f729e_story.html
    How does a district like Highline ever break free of the barrier posed by lower revenues associated with lower income residents? Shouldn’t there be some effort at the State level to balance things out across districts a little more?

  9. Small School Educator says:

    To all of the folks against small schools:
    While I agree that there is a huge gap in equality between our high schools, I don’t understand the purpose of arguing for more choice instead of arguing for more funding and support for those campuses that are most in need. By pulling students from their neighborhood HS to send them to one of the larger comprehensive schools, you are simply widening the gap and creating more inequality. Equitable and equal are not the same thing. The students who attend Tyee and Evergreen are drastically different than the population of students attending Mt Rainier and Highline. Many of the students come from low income families and rely on school for breakfast and lunch. Many of the students are just learning to speak English and may be the only one in their family who knows even a little bit of the language. Many of them transfer in and then leave before the end of school year and have followed a similar pattern of transiency for most of their school years. Many of them are in great need of mental and emotional support, because their home lives are a complete mess. Many of them are also extremely intelligent, kind, loving, amazing students who have no voice and whose parents have no voice. Many parents literally cannot speak English to voice their opinion, and they certainly don’t have the money to send their kids anywhere but their neighborhood schools. The large comprehensive high school was not serving the needs for students who need more English classes versus wood shop. They need more math support versus chorus. They need more support from a community of teachers versus getting lost in the huge crowd of a large comprehensive school where your teachers might barely know you.
    As an educator in the district, I was part of the reform on one of these campuses. I also taught there for several years before the change to small schools. Let me tell you that I would NEVER go back to teaching in a large comprehensive high school again. I invite each of you each to go visit one of the small schools on the Evergreen or Tyee campuses to learn more about them before judging them based on misperceptions.
    Instead of fighting for the right to pull your kids from these campuses, please consider fighting for more support staff, teachers, funding for materials and supplies, and coaching for the teachers that show up and make it happen everyday. They give their blood, sweat, and tears (and often their own hard-earned money) to teach in difficult schools with whatever little they’ve got and are fully aware of how nice it must be to teach at a beautiful new school like Mt Rainier. The small schools themselves did not create the inequity between our high school campuses. Small schools were built to try to bridge it.
    Please, if you want to stop the inequity, then fight for MORE for those campuses. They do not need to be large and comprehensive in order to be equal. Matter of fact, smaller is better.

    • Sarah Gengler Dahl says:

      Small School Educator,
      Thank you for your dedication and passion educating Highline students, and for weighing in on this important discussion! My son did attend TEC at the Evergreen Campus last year for 9th grade. We found the teaching staff at TEC to be professional, dedicated and willing to think out-of-the-box to meet the many needs of my son and his classmates. He also enjoyed many great, intelligent and sparkling classmates.

      In the early 2000’s, Highline leadership jumped at the Gates Foundation Small School Initiative funding, divided Tyee and Evergreen into small schools, and we continue to struggle with the consequences of this Bill Gates experiment even after he abandoned and defunded the program in 2009. Highline leadership has never properly funded the district’s small schools as intended by the Gates Foundation Small School Initiative by providing additional dollars to pay of each small school principal and non-teaching staff.

      Evergreen and Tyee teachers scramble with fewer classroom funds compared to the district’s traditional schools, because a large chunk of state and local student funding pays for expensive principals and their staff. And, to make meager financial matters worse, each small school is required to address student needs associated with low-income, social and emotional hardship, ELL, and the full spectrum of academic achievement as required by WA State law for all public high schools. Not much is left to pay for electives.

      Student populations are drastically different at Evergreen and Tyee compared to Highline and Mount Rainier High Schools, because families that can, leave to find high schools where their teenagers can grow and discover through an expanded selection of courses, electives and clubs. Consequently, the student populations at Evergreen and Tyee do not mirror the demographics of their respective neighborhoods. Is it fair for the district to decide what kind of high school experience a student will receive not based on what is best for the student, but where a student lives?

      Yes, many students do thrive in small schools with a more intimate community and more personalized instruction! I have spoken to many dedicated Evergreen teachers who all have been integral in student success stories and have changed young lives. Which is so fantastic! Our district definitely has a need for small high schools, but our district also needs to take a hard look at whether we need 10 of them. Highline leadership needs to host well-advertised community forums to discuss this important high school issue.

  10. Eugenia Gengler says:

    Taxpayers in the Evergreen High School service area are not getting much bang for their buck. Their school tax dollars are going to the other parts of the Highline School District to improve and replace schools there.

    Kids in our area are not only forced to try to learn in an inadequate building in deplorable condition but are not offered sufficient learning options. They must either settle for an inferior education or leave the district when they get to high school age.

    How does this affect me as a taxpayer in the district? My kids are done with college, and my husband and I are retired. Aside from the gross inequity between school experiences that kids in the district have, there is the issue of the property value of our homes in the Evergreen area.

    We live on a fixed income and are fast approaching the point where we will have to sell our house and move into a retirement facility. Our house represents a large part of our estate, and what we can get for it will determine which retirement facility we will be able to afford.

    If we lived in the Chief Sealth area, our house would be worth more than it is in the Evergreen area. Are we going to have to settle for less?

    Let’s have community input into the next proposed bond and get a balanced result that we can all get behind. Let’s put an end to the reverse Robin Hood situation we have now where the Evergreen part of the district is not getting its fair share of the taxes because other parts of the district are getting the lion’s share.

  11. AO says:

    I am just wondering if making Evergreen a comprehensive high school would really stop the “brain drain” of students to Vashon and elsewhere. I sent my son to Cascade Middle school and was very pleased with his teachers and the school staff, yet there is a strong bias against the school. I hear it from parents of my elementary school students. While the school has good teachers, it is not new and does not provide a lot of “extras” they can get elsewhere. And yes, the student population is diverse with diverse needs. I have heard of biases against Evergreen for many years. It is very hard to change perceptions!
    It seems financially impossible to rebuild Evergreen at this time. The bond will be to build or remodel schools to deal with overcrowding. I definitely think it would be a good idea to make Evergreen a comprehensive high school again, but unless it is a beautiful, brand new building with state of the art resources, I don’t think it will bring back many of the students and families that are going elsewhere.

  12. Betsy(2) says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for bringing this very important issue to the community’s attention!

    All middle and high school students in our district should have access to the same menu of options. What they do with those options is up to them (and their families), but to limit those options and opportunities so severely from the outset is shameful.

    As a concerned parent in the Evergreen draw area I think that one of two things needs to happen:

    1) Reconfigure Evergreen (and Tyee) to offer the same options and level of academics currently offered at Highline and Mount Rainier,


    2) Open enrollment for High School and possible Middle School so families can choose for themselves.

    In fact, my preference would be Option 2 above – I challenge the District to open its enrollment and let people vote with their feet, THEN, write a bond based on the results.

    I invite all current and future Evergreen parents (and anyone else interested in this issue) to attend the next district community meeting this Monday, the 27th, AT EVERGREEN campus.

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