By next fall, Seattle’s Licton Springs K-8 school will have a building of its own — four miles away from its namesake, a sacred site for the Duwamish Tribe.
The move comes after more than a year of debate over the fate of the small option school that focuses on Native American culture and history. Licton Springs will be in the Webster School building in Ballard.
The decision, approved by Seattle School Board members this month, was a solution to overcrowding in its current building, which it has shared with Robert Eagle Staff Middle School since 2017. Limited space in the building has been a concern, with classes and services getting pushed into hallways. District officials and School Board member Rick Burke have said that planning for the shared building, which was opened to house those schools, wasn’t sufficient to address the reality of having two schools in one building.
Last school year, Licton Springs had 175 students, and Robert Eagle Staff had 838.
Growing population at Robert Eagle Staff, one of a few schools that host the district’s gifted program (Highly Capable Cohort), also contributed to the crowding.
Moving Licton Springs to the Webster School building in Ballard was one of a few options the district proposed to solve the space problem last fall. After facing pushback, the district delayed the decision by a year, and adjusted the feeder patterns for nearby schools to stem the flow of kids entering Robert Eagle Staff.
According to a district website, Webster was built in 1908 and housed an elementary school through 1979. In the 1980s, the Nordic Heritage Museum leased the space and remodeled it to accommodate its exhibits. The museum moved in 2018, and the district is currently modernizing the building to turn it back into a school.
In an emailed statement, Seattle Public Schools spokesman Tim Robinson said the alternative to moving the school would have been to make Licton Springs a K-5 school.
“Superintendent Denise Juneau held three community meetings with families and staff at Licton Springs K-8 to discuss the school’s future as a K-8, which requires room to grow,” he wrote. “The community expressed the challenges of sharing space, their desire to remain a K-8, and the need for more room to grow.”
Licton Springs had originally been promised space to accommodate 250 seats by the School Board. It has faced the threat of closure by the school district in the past before it was moved to the building. The school and its building have been a refuge for families who want their kids to attend school where indigenous heritage is recognized. Some students travel long distances to attend.
Some parents and members of the nonprofit Urban Native Education Alliance (UNEA) have protested moving the school. They say that a Native-focused school should stay near Licton Springs, which recently became the first Native American landmark site in Seattle. Before the new building housing Robert Eagle Staff and Licton Springs opened, the area was home to the now-shuttered American Indian Heritage High School.
“The decisions of the Seattle administration have succeeded in removing the very last of the Native programs and students from the Licton Springs site, which is sacred to their history,” said Jimmie Simmons, who testified at the School Board meeting on Wednesday.
UNEA used to host a community program in the building before the district severed its ties with the organization last summer. It has now moved the program, called Clear Sky, to North Seattle College. Parents affiliated with the program have a legal appeal against the district that is still pending.