Walking with Tica: Neighborhood Planning

North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan update cover

Cover of the North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan update from DPD

Have you checked out the North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Plan Update? In case you’re new to North Beacon Hill, this is the draft document generated out of hours of meetings with the City of Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD).  The North Beacon Hill Neighborhood Council and many individuals have worked very hard to collect input and share neighborhood opinions about how our community (“urban village”) should look.

Perhaps the biggest change proposed in this draft is increasing the height limit of buildings surrounding the light rail station.  There’s also a proposal to update El Centro de la Raza’s zoning.  It’s currently single family residential—no, I’m not joking. In case you’re unfamiliar with El Centro, there are dozens of programs operating out of that building, serving thousands of people of all ages and from all backgrounds.  Childcare, senior meals, homeless services, a food bank, immigrant advocacy, and more.  There are also businesses operating within El Centro: CommuniChi acupuncture, Excelsior Travel Agency, and others.  For a complete list and to learn how to volunteer or make a donation to El Centro, visit their website. El Centro hopes to develop affordable housing and expand their program facilities.  This is an incredible opportunity for our entire neighborhood.

One potential future for North Beacon Hill (looking north on Beacon Avenue, near McClellan).
Many people have concerns and fears about changes to our neighborhood, especially around the idea of increasing density.  What’s important to you? What makes Beacon Hill a place you want to live?  What would you change?  I’m concerned about preserving the character of our neighborhood and encouraging good design.  I want to keep what we have (Red Apple, Baja Bistro, La Cabaña, etc.) and add businesses that serve our community (a bookstore, a consignment store).  I want to preserve the charm of our single family blocks and add dense, affordable housing near the station.  I want our sidewalks and crosswalks accessible to the seniors who’ve lived here for decades and to those of us pushing strollers through the neighborhood.

My priorities around neighborhood planning were honed when we were looking for a house in 2003.  I attended Seattle Midwifery School at El Centro (they’ve now moved) and loved Beacon Hill.   It only took one walking tour to convince my partner that this was a great place to live.  Our goal is to live in this house for 20-30 years.  We planned where we were going to buy a house based on what was important to us:

  • walkability/run-ability (safety, accessibility, comfort, quality of sidewalks and trails)
  • services (grocery store, library, coffee shop, bar/pub, restaurant)
  • transit access and easy access by car to other places
  • diversity
  • established community
  • parks and green spaces

We’re expecting another human member of the family in May.  I’m excited to see baby/kid-friendly businesses opening in our neighborhood.  We always assumed we’d send our kid to the neighborhood school, and were content with Beacon Elementary and Kimball as choices.  The Seattle School District is shifting to location-based school assignment, which will (hopefully) mean that our south-end schools start achieving parity with the rest of the city.

Change can be challenging.  For some perspective on all the changes in Beacon Hill over the last 100 years or so, check out Seattle’s Beacon Hill by Frederica Merrell and Mira Latoszek. (Merrell is an occasional contributor to the BHB. — ed.) The book is chock-full of photos from the Jackson Regrade—when neighborhood planning meant washing huge portions of the city down into the Sound!  Now is our chance to shape our community for decades to come.  Get informed; get involved.  Attend meetings (the North Beacon Hill Council meets on the first Thursday of every month at the library) and talk to your neighbors.

(Editor’s note: If you’d like your own copy of Seattle’s Beacon Hill, you can order one from Amazon through the link on the lower right of this page.)

An artist's depiction of a future event at the Lander Festival Street, from the North Beacon Hill neighborhood plan update.

15 thoughts on “Walking with Tica: Neighborhood Planning”

  1. Thank you for posting this! The information is wonderful. Do you know what time the council meets on the first thurs? I did my student teaching at Beacon Hill International School in 2006. We moved here in 2007 and I continue to teach at BHIS, and Dearborn Park (both great schools) on a regular basis. I love our diverse community and working with its families.

    Seattle’s Beacon Hill by Frederica Merrell and Mira Latoszek is currently in my teacher bag. My favorite chapter so far is East Meets West which shares the history of the people who have lived in this neighborhood. I still have 4 more chapters to read and am really looking forward to Home and Family (ch 8), and El Centro de La Raza (ch 10).

  2. Out of curiosity, what gives you hope about this change?

    “The Seattle School District is shifting to location-based school assignment, which will (hopefully) mean that our south-end schools start achieving parity with the rest of the city.”

  3. Jennie, the council meets at 7:00 pm on first Thursdays. Usually if you watch the blog a few days before the meeting, we post the agenda if we have it. I should mention that though the council usually meets at the library, occasionally they meet elsewhere, but we’ll post about that here if it happens.

  4. I’m hopeful that people will be motivated to become active in our neighborhood schools. Now that signing up to drive across town isn’t an option, parents will focus their energy on making the neighborhood schools as good as they can be–through volunteering, fund drives, and political activism.

  5. As a teacher, for me, it is the *hope* that students are going to get to know their peers in the communities and neighborhoods in which they live even more. They will form bonds and work together, helping each other and sharing their talents.

    For kids that are performing above their grade level in standardized tests and the WASL, educating them back in their neighborhood school means that funds have been/and *should* be shifted back here to provide the teachers and resources that they need. Parents are the strongest voice to make this happen in the parent/teacher/student/community relationship at the moment. Email the Superintendent, Maria Goodloe-Johnson, to get involved – magoodloe@seattleschools.org

    If a student is performing at grade level, I feel they are well looked after in our neighborhood schools as I have had much experience teaching here. The educators are professionals that are motivated to help students succeed and progress.

    If a student is working towards grade level proficiency, there are a wonderful plethora of educators to support their studies. There are math and reading specialists and coaches, ELL (english language learners) teachers, IAs (instructional assistants) – many who are fluent in other languages including English,and Bilingual Teachers. They do a fantastic job!

    I hope this gives you more hope about the change to come. Our community is unique, we are culturally and linguistically diverse *AND* caring – that is something to celebrate and be a part of!!

  6. As much as district administrators may want us to believe otherwise, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect that limiting parents’ opportunity to opt out of poorly performing schools is going to somehow bring achievement parity to the south end. Last year ~37% of 7th graders in SE public schools passed the math WASL, while ~60% of 8th graders in the rest of the district did. That gap is immense, and it cannot be blamed on neighbors who have chosen not to send their children to these underperforming schools.

    I’m glad it’ll still be a few years before I have to make a school decision for my child, and the effects of the assignment plan will start to become clear. I dearly hope you are right and that south end schools will be performing on par with the rest of the district. But I doubt that will be the case, and my hope is that by then SPS will be forced to consider another more realistic strategy to achieve that goal.

    2009 7th grade math wasl pass rates:

    aki kurose 22.5
    hamilton 43.1
    eckstein 84.4
    mcclure 45.0
    madison 57.5
    washington 78.0
    whitman 71.4
    denny 40.1
    mercer 50.7

  7. Jennie: I share your hope about kids making connections in their neighborhood. Relationships are important–with your peers (other students/parents), with the people who live next door, with the grocery clerks… Thank you for sharing your perspective on how funds are allotted and the contact information for the Superintendent. Special thanks for praising your fellow educators!

    JvA: WASL scores are an imperfect measure of performance. I’m more concerned about the low graduation rates in South Seattle schools, and about social concerns (violence & other crime, hunger, pregnancy, chemical dependency).

    I have to hope that the kids in the South end will be safer and achieve higher goals. I have to believe that community involvement makes a difference. What else is there to do besides hope, and work towards that goal?

  8. I’m not sure there are any perfect measures of performance; I was just using 7th grade math WASL scores as a convenient example. I’m pretty sure that by any common standard of performance you could think of (PSAT scores, WASL in reading, eventual graduation rates / college entrance rates / SAT scores / ACT scores, whatever), you would find that Eckstein vastly outperforms Aki Kurose in those as well.

    While hope is awesome, what I would like to see is a metrics-based plan about how SPS is going to achieve its stated goal of “excellence for all,” which in my mind includes that district-wide parity we’re speaking of. I would like the district to announce an incremental plan of how it will try to bring Aki Kurose rates up to those of Eckstein, how it will measure its progress, and what it will do if it fails to meet its targets. If the district were serious about achieving parity, wouldn’t it do this? Wouldn’t they be considering radical steps to make South End schools excellent? For instance, maybe teachers of classes that get the very best WASL (or whatever type of test) scores should be given highly attractive incentives to move to schools where classes are getting the lowest scores? Or maybe schools with underperforming classes should be given more faculty to make class sizes smaller? Yes, this would take resources away from better schools. (And one of the reasons that something like that would never happen.)

    I guess I’d like to see more than hope and general calls for parents to become more involved. (I’m not shirking from duty–I will be highly involved in whatever school my child attends.) Those things are wonderful, of course, but I’d also like to see a numbers-based plan of action.

  9. Great and thoughtful comments so far from all. Its interesting how a neighborhood plan article has turned into a schools discussion – two things less linked until the new student assignment plan for 2010.

    I’d like to point out a few things, as a new parent to Seattle Public Schools. I have a first grader at Beacon Hill International School, the closest school to our house. I am very happy that the school closest to us is a great school, and that at the time we had to choose (before the new student assignment plan), we had good choices that were close by. We were impressed and would have been happy to send our son to Beacon, Kimball or Maple (we didn’t visit Dearborn Park). All have accomplished and recognized principals and staff. All are also dealing with challenging populations of students, and have test scores that may not be very impressive.

    When a school is dealing with significant numbers of ELL (English Language Learners) kids (and parents), it can have dramatic impact on test scores and percentages of students improving, etc. When a school has significant numbers of kids living in poverty, it has a dramatic affect too.

    At the moment, the state of Washington is looking at billions (yes, billions) less in funding for education. SPS is looking at $49 million shortage. This translates to the building level, where principals are asking staff and parents for their priorities, that is, which positions to fund and which to cut, and its not going to be one or two, it will be dramatic and it will be felt hard by all the staff that remain. Unfortunately, I don’t think “parent involvement” is going to make up for the lack of a professional counselor, Somali speaking Instructional Assistant, family support worker or art teacher.

    At this point, its my opinion, that the SPS needs to make dramatic, even “draconian” cuts at the district level in order to properly fund the schools and the staff that are on the ground, working with our kids day to day.

    As for a numbers-based plan of action, the schools have it, its the “Continuous School Improvement Plan,” which each school is required to complete every year. It includes site specific goals and strategies to achieve them. No Child Left Behind sets other metrics to achievement, also tied to funding. If anything, our schools are buried in metrics to qualify for funding, staffing and curriculum.

    Check out the schools, BHIS will be having its annual MLK celebration on Tuesday, January 19th at 7:00. All the schools are having open houses in January or February.

    Thanks all. Now, to read the neighborhood plan update . . .

  10. Parent involvement includes attending meetings, advocating for funding to be allocated in certain ways, and helping raise money. The more parents connect–with each other, with teachers, administrators, etc–the stronger the schools will be.

    The squeaky wheel gets the grease, as they say. We need to be squeaky in our neighborhood.

  11. Melissa-

    I agree with you regarding the advocacy of parents on behalf of their kids and their education. However, because so much funding for our schools is dependent on the state, we parents need the rest of the citizens of the state to value education and be willing to pay for it.

    On Beacon Hill, we have significant numbers of recent immigrants and folks at the lower end of the income spectrum. As a 5th generation American and native English speaker, it’s often confusing or not readily apparent how I can advocate effectively. I can’t imagine what its like for someone who just got here, or is working two jobs to scrape by, or has limited English skills, or all of the above.

    Some school’s PTAs are able to significantly supplement a building’s budget through fundraising. My wife’s co-worker’s PTA at a public school on Queen Anne regularly raises $50k at their fall fundraiser, then another $100k. Beacon Hill International had a great fall Walk-a-thon, it raised $12k. The new student assignment plan is going to exacerbate this disparity.

    Additionally, if the district budgets say $80k/year (salary, benefits, taxes, etc), for a teacher, even a more affluent school is not going to be able to simply fundraise their way to adequate staffing levels.

    We need the state to prioritize education in the budget. We need the district to prioritize the kids and their teachers, and cut the overhead at the district offices.

    Squeak Squeak.

    District VII School Board Rep – Betty Patu betty.patu@seattleschools.org

  12. All this talk got me wondering when I could tour Maple, the school that my daughter will be assigned to a few years down the road. I e-mailed the principal and got this reply:

    “Maple will have our Open House on February 11, 2010 at 6:30pm and you are very welcome to attend.”

    I’ll point this out to Wendi for posting for other prospective Maple families.

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