UPDATE, Nov. 13: After an outcry from parents and a contentious meeting, Seattle Public Schools announced in an email Friday that Licton Springs will stay put for now. Read the full follow-up story by reporter Ashley Gross.
The possible displacement of a Seattle option school that has a focus on Native culture and social justice is drawing criticism and outrage among parents.
Last year, the Seattle school district opened a new building to house the Native-focused school known as Licton Springs K-8. It shares that building with a separate middle school called Robert Eagle Staff. But the school district says the building is already over capacity. Robert Eagle Staff is a pathway for the district’s highly capable program, which is growing in numbers.
The district has said it may create another Highly Capable Cohort pathway at Whitman Middle School as a way to reduce student numbers at Robert Eagle Staff, or adjust the feeder pattern of Olympic View Elementary School to send more of those students to Jane Addams Middle School. But other options under consideration would directly affect Licton Springs.
The school district will hold a community meeting on Wednesday evening to discuss options for addressing the capacity issue. Under one option, Licton Springs would move to the Webster School site in the Ballard neighborhood. It’s a building that the district owns, but hasn’t used as a school since 1979. Most recently it’s housed the Nordic Heritage Museum, but the museum has moved to a new building and the school district plans to renovate Webster School and add a new gymnasium.
The district has also suggested turning Licton Springs into a K-5 school. David LaSarte-Meeks is a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe and has a daughter in seventh grade at Licton Springs. He said he’s adamantly opposed to that idea.
“Middle school is a critical period for any student, and for Native students, looking at the disparities and looking at where kids go off track, I think changing from a K-8 would be a horrible mistake,” LaSarte-Meeks said.
In the 2016-17 school year, Native American students in Seattle Public Schools had a 50 percent four-year graduation rate, compared with 79 percent for the district as a whole.
According to statistics from the state superintendent’s office, Licton Springs has a Native population of 12 percent. But parents at the school said the percentage is bigger when multiracial children are included. At Robert Eagle Staff, 0.3 percent of students are American Indian or Alaska Native.
In a statement, Seattle Public Schools spokesman Tim Robinson said no decisions have been made yet and the community meetings this week and next will be an opportunity for discussion and feedback. The district has no other school building shared by two middle schools, and he said Licton Springs has only 44 middle-school students this year.
“Making Licton Springs a K-5 and allowing students to remain on campus at Robert Eagle Staff Middle School for grades 6-8 would provide more room for both schools and cost savings for the district given the high cost of operating the 6-8 grades at Licton Springs with low enrollment,” Robinson said in the email.
As for moving to a different location, Robinson said that option would give the school a space of its own and room to grow.
But parents and other Native leaders in Seattle said they oppose that idea. Sarah Sense-Wilson is co-founder of Urban Native Education Alliance, a group that pushed for Licton Springs to be located where it is now, in part because that’s the site of the former Indian Heritage High School. It’s also a location that is spiritually significant to local tribes, she said.
“The entire site where it’s located – Licton Springs – that’s holy ground. That’s a sacred site,” Sense-Wilson said. “That has always been a place of importance.”
LaSarte-Meeks said moving the school would continue a pattern of shortchanging Licton Springs, which has experienced name changes and faced possible closure in the past. He added that the move would undermine the district's claims of prioritizing racial equity. As soon as the new building opened last year, parents said Licton Springs hadn’t been given enough classroom space and middle-school math was being taught in an open alcove off of a hallway. Art and science shared one room.
“They named the Robert Eagle Staff school after an Indian educator, recognizing his work in fighting for marginalized Native students. They have murals all over the campus, recognizing Indian leaders from hundreds of years ago who fought for marginalized Native peoples, and yet, they continue to marginalize Native students in their system at the exact same campus,” LaSarte-Meeks said. “The irony and frustration at this point are just really overwhelming.”