Seattle Public Schools is moving the Developmental Preschool program at Whittier Elementary School in Ballard to Viewlands Elementary in North Greenwood/Crown Hill next year. But, some parents in the Developmental Preschool are upset because they weren’t involved in the decision-making process, and they were given very little notice.
The Developmental Preschool is located on the bottom floor of Whittier Elementary.
The district says it is moving the program because it anticipates higher enrollment at Whittier in the next few years, and may need an extra classroom.
Amy Thompson, whose 4-year-old daughter, Ava, has attended the Developmental Preschool for the last two years, says the district apparently made the decision in February, but didn’t notify parents until Monday. She said the district posted a letter on its website on Feb. 17 detailing various district-wide Special Education changes, and the preschool change consisted of one line in that document. But no one from the district or Whittier Elementary notified parents of that letter on the website.
“It was deeply buried,” Thompson says of the notice. “And who’s going to go looking for that if they don’t know to look for it?”
Thompson says she heard about the move last Thursday from Whittier Principal Linda Robinson. Preschool families received a notification letter on Monday, and that same letter was sent home with all Whittier students on Tuesday.
Here is an excerpt from the letter by Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent for Operations:
At this time, we have tentatively planned to maintain the same number of homerooms currently at Whittier; however, the situation is such that we need to be prepared to add a homeroom as additional Open Enrollment date becomes available. This type of decision obviously needs to be made in advance. In anticipation of potential space needs for an additional homeroom at Whittier next year, we have decided to relocate the Developmental Preschool to Viewlands Elementary beginning in the 2012-13 school year. Consideration was given to the addition of a portable; however it was determined to be unfeasible.
SPS also says it is studying the need for additional Development Preschools at other sites throughout the district, including North Seattle.
The Whittier PTA has formally opposed the move, arguing that Whittier’s enrollment figures do not necessitate another homeroom next year. On Monday, the PTA sent a letter to district officials (see end of this post for the full letter).
Thompson said her family’s reference school is Adams Elementary, but they chose to enroll their 6-year-old son, Campbell, in kindergarten at Whittier this year, so he and his sister could attend the same school. With the preschool moving to Whittier, they will be split up.
Thompson said she understands school capacity issues, but the real issue is with timely notification. Since the Open Enrollment period has passed, she no longer has the option of moving her son to Viewlands next year, to keep her children at the same school.
“If it is a foregone conclusion that the program is moving, at a minimum, just give us a year of transition to work these issues out,” she pleaded.
Thompson says routines and structure are especially important for children with developmental issues. Her daughter has significant development delays and requires intensive speech, occupational and physical therapy. When Ava started going to the Developmental Preschool program at the age of 3, she used a walker to get around. Today she walks independently, and Thompson attributes that to the teachers and intense therapy at the preschool.
“All of them require a special level of education services, so whether it comes in the form of cognitive therapy, learning or physical therapy, their routines are very structured that way,” she explains. “It takes a while to develop that routine with your educators.”
She’s worried about the same level of services being available at Viewlands, after the district informed parents that the new Developmental Preschool room at Viewlands is not equipped for physical therapy, as it is at Whittier.
“Not having those things in place is a pretty big setback to their progress and overall development plan,” she says.