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Originally published Saturday, April 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Demand exceeds space in some North End Seattle schools

The growing number of young families in the city's North End is raising concerns about the capacity of the elementary schools there, with...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Schools where waiting lists are long

Choosing schools: About 75 percent of applicants received their first-choice school, and 86 percent received their first or second choice. Last year, the percentage was two points higher in each category.

Waiting lists: More kindergarten students are on waiting lists this year than last. The schools with the longest waiting lists are TOPS (93 students), John Stanford International (88 students), Bryant (82), Stevens (57) and Salmon Bay (50).

High schools: Only two high schools have long waiting lists: Garfield (216 students) and Roosevelt (206 students).

Source: Seattle School District

The growing number of young families in the city's North End is raising concerns about the capacity of the elementary schools there, with hundreds of families on waiting lists this year for their favored schools.

Jennifer Smead said she was stunned to find out the Seattle School District had assigned her daughter to kindergarten at a school she did not ask for, in a neighborhood she did not know, in a building at least four miles away.

"I kind of was in this disbelief," said Smead, who lives within walking distance of Bryant Elementary School — the school she wanted most.

The district saw a spike in enrollment this year, with 11,116 applications, including new students and transfers, up from 10,880 last year. But there was a downside: In a system where parents rank schools in order of preference, fewer got their first or second choice. In the northeast part of the city, the problem is particularly acute. Elementary-school enrollment has increased by 229 students in the past five years, with Bryant Elementary emerging as the hands-on favorite. This year, 82 families are on the waiting list.

Some have been assigned to John Rogers Elementary School, at the opposite end of their neighborhood cluster — district-defined boundaries for assigning students to schools. At Bryant Elementary on Thursday, about 100 parents gathered to discuss their overall concerns with district officials — everything from outdated boundaries to long bus rides.

"We have a system that's failing, and we know that it's failing," School Board member Harium Martin-Morris said after the meeting.

The School Board is revamping the way it assigns students to schools and expects to have a new plan in place in fall 2010. Under an outline the board passed in June, families would still be able to choose a school, but the district would guarantee each student a seat in a school near his or her home.

District leaders say the new plan would be more predictable and consistent than the current system. Now, students and their families submit a list of preferences, and a series of rules determines where students are assigned.

But the district can do nothing to change demographics. And a new study projects about 600 additional elementary-age students in the North End by 2012.

"I think this is a crisis, and I think it's not going to go away," said Erin Gustafson, whose daughter starts at Bryant Elementary next year. "People who want to send their kids to public school in Seattle are going to keep moving into this neighborhood."

In the South End, declining enrollment has forced several schools to close. But Beacon Hill Elementary, where a dual-language immersion program begins this fall, has a waiting list — 48 students — for the first time in years. Graham Hill and Kimball elementary schools also had waiting lists in the fall.

Still, the longest kindergarten waiting lists were in the North End, from 50 families at Salmon Bay K-8 to 93 at TOPS K-8.

School Board member Michael DeBell said the trend is troubling because there's just not enough room on that end of town. The district shut down a slew of schools there starting in the 1970s. Now it has to consider other options.

"I think the situation at Bryant is the leading edge of the district having to grapple with this," DeBell said.

The district has already created four additional kindergarten classes, at View Ridge, Wedgwood, Laurelhurst and Rogers, to meet the demand in the northeast for next year. And at Thursday's meeting, officials promised to create another class, the location of which to be announced next week.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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