The reopening of Meany Middle School last September resulted in cutting grades sixth through eighth at what is now just Madrona Elementary. Despite having room to grow its enrollment, Madrona is one of many central area schools that has struggled with increasing its student population over the years.

“We do have some empty space, but it’s not only that,” said Madrona PTSA co-president Sharon Safarik. “We have low enrollment in a lot of our classes, which is good and bad.”

Enrollment was at 234 in 2017, according to a Seattle Public Schools report, down by 63 students from 2016. Safarik said, with projections for next year, it’s likely Madrona will lose one of its three kindergarten classes in 2018-19.

“I think that’s something that a lot of schools are facing in the area,” she said of Madrona’s low enrollment.

Safarik added Madrona will add a fourth-grade class next school year.

“There’s been a little bit of room to spread out,” she said.

Tom Redman, who handles capital communications for Seattle Public Schools, tells the Madison Park Times that cutting grades 6-8 at Madrona resulted in the addition of eight full-sized classrooms; about 8,000 square feet of instructional space. Redman says some of that space will be used next year for relocating special education programs from the Van Asselt building.

Madrona Elementary is using some of that space already, including a music room for third- through fifth-graders, Safarik said, but it’s challenging securing a part-time music instructor.

“If we had more kids at the school, we would have a full-time music teacher,” she said.

The computer lab in the former middle school portion of the building at 1121 33rd Ave. is being used to teach third- and fourth-graders basic coding, Safarik said.

Every grade level could use another classroom, she said, but school funding is tied to enrollment.

“A number of other central area schools have also been talking about their enrollment and how it's been decreasing from years ago,” Redman wrote in an email to MPT, “so we've started working with all the principals in the area to review and discuss.”

Safarik said one reason for the declining enrollment numbers at Madrona is the School Choice program, where students can apply to attend a school other than the one they’re assigned to in a designated attendance area. Each year a number of Madrona students apply for an option school, she said, and TOPS K-8 is a popular choice.

In its 2016-17 school report, TOPS students showing proficiency in English language arts and mathematics were at 68 percent and 65 percent, respectively, almost the same as the school district’s elementary school average. At Madrona for 2016-17, proficiency in English language arts and mathematics were at 52 percent and 48 percent.

“It’s one of the data points you can look at that’s not subjective,” Safarik said.

According to 2017 enrollment data, there were 366 K-5 students living in the Madrona Attendance Area, with 20 students attending TOPS, 60 attending Stevens Elementary and 41 at Thurgood Marshall. The largest student population attending Madrona from outside the attendance area live in the Bailey Gatzert area, according to SPS documents.

Madrona Elementary also has a high percentage of African-American students and students coming from low-income households, she said.

As of 2016-17, 55 percent of students at Madrona were on the free or reduced-price lunch program.

“We have about 35 kids right now that are technically homeless,” Safarik said, “so that’s about 20 percent of our school.”

As a Title I school, Safarik said there are four interventionists that work with students dealing with trauma.

“Invariably, people are choosing to go to schools that are much wealthier and whiter,” she said.

Another reason for declining enrollment is more and more parents choosing private schools for their children, Safarik said, a number of which are located in the Central Area. She said there are 55,000 students attending SPS schools, and 23,000 that go to private schools. The Bush School plans to complete a major campus upgrade by 2024.

The PTSA, known as the Madrona Panther Partners, launched its website last year, and has been working to make the elementary school more of a community asset, Safarik said.

The PTSA recently put on its fish fry fundraiser, and there will be a multicultural night in November, but upgrading the playground and opening it up as a community space is the Panther Partners’ largest ongoing project.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last December for the first phase of the project, which included a community build to install a new play structure. Safarik said more than 1,000 volunteer hours have been logged and about $263,000 has been raised. The Seattle School Board approved $45,000 for the second phase on May 10, and Safarik has since signed off for a contractor to begin Phase 2 work this summer.

A new community entrance will be created, and personalized bricks and pavers sold to raise funds will be used for a new pathway. Removing the chain-link fence and making the playground open to the public after school, on weekends and all summer is a big deal, Safarik said, because it will make Madrona Elementary stand out more as a part of the community.

The PTSA is also working to “beef up” its school tours, Safarik said, as the district puts the burden of attracting new students on each school.

“The district really ends up pitting schools against each other,” Safarik said.