Wednesday, July 30, 2014

An Alternative Narrative on Turnover

The Seattle Times likes to peddle this story about how a fractious and meddling Board is the driving reason for the turnover of senior staff, including the superintendent, at Seattle Public Schools.

It's a good yarn, but it doesn't actually fit the facts. It doesn't fit the facts because
  1. The Board isn't all that fractious. Most votes are unanimous or nearly so. And no matter how fractious the Board may be, they all accept the votes and support the majority decision. I will say that Director Blanford violated the Code of Conduct when he called out his colleagues, and that was inappropriate, but he's new and clearly doesn't know what he's doing.
  2. The Board doesn't meddle. Seriously. When was the last time you heard tell of a Board Director stepping over the governance/management line? I don't think it has happened for well over a year.The last one to do it was Michael DeBell when he usurped the superintendent's authority to determine program placement and dictated the APP sites. The Seattle Times has tried to make it seem that the elementary math textbook decision crossed the line, but it didn't. That's a Board decision - by statute. And the Times suggested that the bell time study crossed the line, but the Board sets priorities. That's also part of their job.

So while this narrative is tempting and easy, it simply doesn't work for anyone who thinks about it and has any actual knowledge of the district. I can see why the Seattle Times editorial board likes it.

There is, however, a different narrative that fits the facts better than this one.

  1. Senior staff leave because they cannot reform the dysfunctional culture of the central staff. They either become part of the corruption, or, after struggling valiantly against it, they quit. Who would want the job of managing the unmanageable? Who would want to accept responsibility for routine failures by their staff? The morass that is HR at Seattle Public Schools is comparable only to the VA. There has been a lot of turnover in HR, hasn't there? Teaching and Learning, another dysfunctional department, has seen a lot of turnover as well. I think Wendy London had the job for a weekend.
  2. There are some unthinkably bad separations between responsibility and authority. Why so much turnover in special education? Gee, do you think it could have anything to do with the fact that they didn't really have any authority over their people? Their teachers report to principals instead of to them, and no one in special education had any authority over the principals. Actually, no one has any authority over the principals. We went through a string of budget people before we actually gave them some authority and control over the money.
  3. Other school districts in Washington see Seattle as their training ground. It's seen as a real coup if they can hire someone from Seattle. Working in Seattle Public Schools, especially as senior staff, looks pretty good on a resume and other school districts love to hire that. For the career ambitious, Seattle is a stepping stone on the way to something else.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seattle Times "Story" on Superintendents and School Board

Update: And now the Times editorial board weighs in.  Yawn.  Same old, same old (you'd think they would try a new tack but no.)  The Times absolutely refuses to acknowledge the reasons for the turnover in Seattle superintendents.  What is the Board to do in the fact of not one but two financial scandals?  Keep those superintendents?  C'mon. 

Then they speak of "a curiosity for a change in governance."  I hate to break it to them but that "curiosity" is only Tim Burgess, LEV and the Seattle Times.  Not in progressive Seattle.

And they speak of respect "for staff" as they incessantly berate the Board.  Oh kettle, it's the pot calling.

End of update.

Of all the issues for the Times to cover about Seattle Public Schools, they pick the issue of superintendents working with school boards.

This is an old, tired issue that the Times has covered...repeatedly.  In fact, it seems their go-to, defacto answer to ANY issue in Seattle Schools.  That darned micromanaging School Board.  It seems particularly inappropriate at this time (unless, of course, you were the powers that be in this town trying to send a public message to the Board about how they interact with our new interim superintendent.) 
Did the School Board stand up recently on some issues and flex their elected muscle?  They did and they were within their rights to do so.  Especially on the issue of bell times.  I say that because the staff does NOT set the priorities; the Board does.  The staff then lays out a plan to enact those priorities.

This is one of the worst articles on this issue that the Times has published.

In it, it is revealed that Banda sent an e-mail to the board about treatment of staff about the elementary math adoption process.  I had heard about this but that Banda released the e-mail - as he goes out the door - is very bad form on his part.  But I suppose he felt the need to protect the staff from that bad, bad School Board.


Tuesday Open Thread

 (Not about education but I wanted to get this out there as so many of us have loved ones with cancer.  A high school friend of mine does cancer research at Tulane University and they just found out that even low levels of light while sleeping may inhibit breast cancer drugs from working.  He also let me know this:

"The Louisiana Cancer Research Consortium has special sleep masks that we will mail to you for a modest donation of $25 that will help support our development of this work and a clinical trial.")

Are you raising "nice" kids?  I like to think I did.  

“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.

Last, I hope you can share this with your children (from Rebelle Society - "creatively maladjusted") = Creative Manifesto.  It's a list of thoughts about how you live your life fully and creatively.  My favorite one:

Hey Frodo, it’s a lonely battle, and we need help taking the ring to Mordor. In this lifehouse, we collaborate, we share and e-hug daily. We can’t do this (or anything) alone. We need each other badly.

The only possible form of existence is co-existence. Beyond our own, unscripted individual stories, we’re part of a bigger, universal story to which we add every day with our thoughts and actions. We are responsible for the course of events and desperate status of our world.

When it comes to technology and communication, we’re at a place of synergy and synchronicity like never before. It is imperative that we make a mindful, heartfelt use of it.

What's on your mind?

The Anti-Board Advocacy of the Seattle Times

Once again the Seattle Times is whipping up anti-School Board animus.

This is an old and discredited lie. And the "news" story is full of misrepresentations and omissions. I'll amend this post when I have time to list them all.

Aspiring athletes, take note of changes to NCAA eligibility

Prep athletes with aspirations to play in college and their families need to be aware of changes to NCAA eligibility requirements. They are stricter than they used to be and they are stricter than the district's requirements.

See this story on the Seattle Times web site for more information.

Monday, July 28, 2014

National PTA Sponsoring Common Core Ads on Facebook

Photo: Looks like PTA needs higher standards! This Common Core Facebook paid advertisement is missing an important verb. I would guess if you are a PTA member and on Facebook, these PTA-sponsored ads will pop up on your Facebook page.

Would be nice if someone had proofread it first. 

Disappointing that National PTA is going this direction rather than having a real conversation about the issue and parents' concerns.

Where's the problem?

Over and over again we see that the problem is not inadequate policies or procedures but the absence of any enforcement and the absence of any accountability for those who violate the policies and procedures.

And who has the job of enforcing policy and holding staff accountable? The Board.

Garfield Field Trip Assault: Continuing Questions

Update: So all I was trying to find out - from the FBI and National Park Service - is what was the date that  SPS asked them for their investigation report?  And what was the date that the district filed their FOIA request when the FBI/National Park Service said no to that request?

Those two groups now want me to file a FOIA to find out when SPS filed their FOIA. 

Kind of funny.  (I would ask the district but I'd like direct verification myself.)

end of update

1) There is a lengthy account at the Facebook page associated with the family of the student assaulted.  I do have a few questions but I'll wait and see if the family contacts me.  It is fairly well-fleshed out so they were clearly documenting as they went along (a very good thing for all parents to do should any type of school situation arise - document everything).

2) I called the Seattle office of the FBI.  The press officer sent me a statement; they aren't answering any questions.

The FBI and the National Park Service (NPS) investigated the allegations for possible violations of federal law. When we conduct an investigation we take all actions appropriate to the matter, such as interviewing witnesses, gathering evidence, and, if appropriate, referring the case to prosecutors at either the state or federal level. So, while we can’t give further details on the review of this victim’s claims, we can assure you that the FBI and the NPS have investigated the matter and pursued all appropriate actions.

Here is the page describing the process for FOIA requests:

Thanks for your understanding about the limited scope of what FBI policy determines is appropriate to say on this matter.

3) I received a correction today from SPS Communications:

The District asked for both the FBI and National Parks reports. They said we had to file via Freedom of Information. We did, and were denied access. We know the family received a copy of the report and we asked them for a copy, but that was not provided.

I find this puzzling, not so much that the FBI and Parks wouldn't give SPS the report but that it took this long to explain the connection between SPS and the FBI.  (I did follow-up with the FBI just to ask if they could give me the date that SPS requested their investigation.)  

I have a call into the National Parks service.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Downtown School; Maybe Something Deeper Happening

There is nothing on the Seattle Schools calendar for this week.  Well, there is one meeting happening and yet strangely, it does not appear on the district calendar.  It's almost as if this meeting is really for one purpose or group. 

It's the meeting at the Downtown Library about SPS taking over the Federal Reserve building. (The meeting is at 6 pm in the "Microsoft" auditorium with a walk-thru of the Federal Reserve building around 7:15 pm.)  Again, this is billed as a "conversational" meeting so I will have to see what form that conversation takes.

I also see, at the notice at the district webpage, NO mention of how to pay for these renovations.  According to the Times, it would be something on the order of $53M (up from Flip Herndon's ballpark $40M) AND they would be seeking levies funds to pay for it.  No mention either of downtown businesses or foundations willing to help this effort for a school they all seem to so deeply need/want.

I hope all of you know that Charlie and I could never have this blog without you.  And not just as readers.  So many of you send me alerts, messages, info - truly, thank you.

Something Horrible Under Every Rock

People frequently ask me "What fuels your activist energy?" and I tell them "Outrage." "But how," they ask,"can you stay outraged for fourteen years?" "I can't." I tell them. "I'm newly outraged every couple days. And you would be too if you watched the District closely. There is something new that crops up - generally twice a week - that is a source of new outrage."

This story, of the rape on a Garfield field trip in November of 2012, is setting off outrage like a string of firecrackers. The more I look into it, the more horrible it is. As I follow up on every statement and review every action, there is source of outrage. Seriously. I know that if I turn over some rocks I will find bad things, but in this case every single rock I flip over reveals something horrible. Every time I look into any aspect of this case I am outraged anew.