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Seattle superintendent to worried parents: Licton Springs K-8 to stay put next year

Matt Brown
AP Photo
File photo: Seattle Superintendent Denise Juneau

Parents with kids at Licton Springs K-8, a small school in North Seattle that focuses on social justice and Native culture, got some assurance from Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau that the school won’t be displaced next year.

The district had said in November that the building the school shares with Robert Eagle Staff Middle School faces capacity constraints and that the district was considering a number of options, including moving Licton Springs to a site in the Ballard neighborhood. That prompted an outcry from parents and after a contentious meeting, district officials backed down and said they would “slow down the process” and work with families to find a long-term solution.

Juneau, who is an enrolled member of the Mandan Hidatsa tribes and a descendant of the Blackfeet tribe, sat in a circle with families from Licton Springs on Monday evening listening to parents describe how their children have thrived at the school after negative experiences in other public schools. Some spoke of watching their children transform from being shy and, in some cases, traumatized to being confident and loving school.

Licton Springs has 174 students this year, according to Seattle Public Schools data. In the 2017-18 school year, 12 percent of students were Native American. Parents at Licton Springs say the percentage is higher when mixed-race students who also identify as Native are included.

Juneau told the families she understands that the school provides a supportive environment, but that she’s also concerned about the school’s academic results. Last year, test scores at the school lagged behind the district average, in some cases by about 30 percentage points. Through a spokesman, Juneau declined to do an interview with KNKX after the meeting.

Parents at the school say there are other, more qualitative measures that should be examined in gauging whether the school is successful. Juneau said she wants to talk about strengths as well as challenges, and that there are other measures of school success that the district can take into account, such as survey responses. She also said she wants to look at structural barriers the district has put in place that have hindered the school, such as space constraints in the building that have resulted in some classes being held in hallways.

Rachel Shirley is Navajo and White Mountain Apache, and has a daughter in fifth grade at Licton Springs. She said her daughter, who has dyslexia, struggled at a previous school until Shirley moved her to Licton Springs in first grade. Shirley said parents fear that the district will close Licton Springs – the school has faced possible closure in the past when it was known as A.S. No. 1, short for Alternative School No. 1. It’s also had to move sites a number of times.

“I have fear that if she loses this school that she’s not going to succeed the way that she would,” Shirley said, adding that it was important to her that her daughter go to school with children who look like her.

“People understand others’ backgrounds and their experiences (at Licton Springs),” Shirley said. “That’s what builds this really strong community because we can go through these things together. We’re not alone.”

Credit Ashley Gross / KNKX
Allycea Weil has two children at Licton Springs K-8 and said she was drawn to the school because of its focus on social justice issues and Native culture.

The school is one of the district’s option schools, which parents have to request during an open enrollment period. The school has attracted families seeking more culturally responsive education, including Allycea Weil, who has a third-grader and a first-grader at Licton Springs. She said Licton Springs has been a much more welcoming place than her son’s previous school.

“I was really urging my old school to have more in the sense of black heritage studies, to which I was told, 'Go join the PTA and get out of our classroom,'” she said. “Here at Licton Springs, I got applauded by the teachers who said, 'Yes, please share this with us. We want to do more.'”

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.