Monday, July 31, 2006

Phase II and APP

Written by Charlie Mas

One of the buildings that may be closed in Phase II of the closures and consolidations is Montlake. The Montlake program may find itself relocated, not to Seward as the CAC initially suggested, but to Lowell. Elementary APP, now at Lowell, would be relocated to another building or buildings.

Lowell is one of the largest elementary schools in Seattle. The building has a planning capacity over 500. Because Lowell is home to a low-incidence special education program, would be room there for no more than 350-400 students in a general education program. Lowell could house all of the students at Montlake plus 100 more. That's room enough to provide students from Capitol Hill and Eastlake with the access to a neighborhood school they now lack. This neighborhood sends a higher percentage of their children to private school than any other neighborhood in Seattle. They use private schools, to a large extent, because their cannot gain entry to any of the public schools of their choice. Repurposing Lowell as a neighborhood school would have the potential to pull up to 100 students from private schools into the public system.

The tricky bit, of course, will be finding a new home for the 460 elementary APP students projected for Lowell next year. There is no other elementary school large enough to hold them all, yet APP is a community like any other. Just like Graham Hill, Viewlands, or Pathfinder, they do not want to be split up. Aside from reasons of community, splitting the program could damage APP's effectiveness, there would be extreme difficulties in finding new locations and re-creating the program. There would be inequities, real and perceived, between the two halves of the program.

APP may be leaving Lowell, but it is definitely leaving Washington. Washington middle school is overcrowded and it has been decided that the students who have to go are APP. Again, this will be tricky. Not only is there no middle school with room for all 440 of them, there is no middle school with room for half of them. As with the elementary program, the community does not want the cohort split, for reasons of community, reasons of academic effectiveness, and others.

Acceptable solutions for elementary and middle school APP are possible, but it is unclear if the District will work with the community to find them. Little time remains before September 18 when parts of Phase II are announced.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Press Coverage on Tonight's Vote on School Closure Plan

I made it to much, but not all, of the final Board meeting on the school closure plan. I need to process some of what I heard before I'm ready to post, but meanwhile here are links to some press coverage:

From the PI: Seattle board closes six buildings---Three more could be targeted this fall

From the Seattle Times: Board's vote on school closures may be only first of major changes and Seattle board votes to close seven schools

From KING 5: Seattle School Board votes on final school closures

And here's a link to the agenda, with all the proposed amendments listed and links to the text for each of the amendments: July 26, 2006 Board Agenda. Two amendments passed --- the one to postpone deciding where the Viewlands programs will be placed, and the one protecting "receiving" schools (ones into which other school programs are being merged) from being considered for closure in Phase II.

Final Board Vote on School Closure Plan

Today is the final Board vote on the school closure plan. Open questions in my mind include:

- Will any Board members propose amendments to the plan? Or will they just vote on the plan as it currently exists?

- If any amendments are proposed, will Sally propose to drop the Viewlands/Greenwood merger? The Viewlands community has been continuing strong advocacy work, with some solid facts about the effectiveness of that school in serving low-income and special needs students.

- Will any details finally be provided about what is happening to the programs at the John Marshall building? I don't see how the Board can vote to approve the plan without more details on that aspect.

- Will any more information about Mary Bass's alternative plan come out?

- Will the Board have a united or divided front at tonights meeting?

I probably won't be able to make the meeting tonight. If you attend, please post comments and let me know what happens.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Too Small? Too Big? or Just Right?

Yesterday, the Seattle Times ran an article called "For schools, does size matter? It begins with a mention of Viewlands, one of the small elementary schools in Seattle that is currently on the closure list. The author suggests that while small schools are preferable, there is such a thing as being too small. And, similarly, while schools shouldn't be too big, desirable elementary school size is between 300 and 500 students.

A few resources to check out on this topic are:

- Small Schools Project, a website for the Gates Foundation-funded project

- "Bill Gates Guinea Pigs," a Seattle Weekly article on the small schools idea applied to high schools in Washington.

- "Are Small Schools Better", a research paper by non-profit WestEd, which includes this quote:

"...researchers focusing on the interaction between poverty and enrollment size offer a rule of thumb: The poorer the school, the smaller its size should be."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Low Income and Low Enrollment

This brave and honest comment from Gigi helps highlight real issues faced by schools with high concentrations of low-income children.

"When I was first looking at schools, my friend, who is a social worker, showed me the Seattle Times School Guide. She showed me how to find schools geographically and how to look up and compare test scores. Then she showed me the “subsidized lunch” statistic and she told me that when she and her husband were looking to buy their first home outside of Seattle (not because of the school district, but because the rising cost of housing makes it difficult for two social workers with two children to buy a home within city limits) they did not look at any homes where the school had more than 45% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch.

Children living close to the poverty line have more (and different) needs than children who don’t. No one is in disagreement that additional resources should be allocated to them (well, maybe someone is, but I’m not), but many parents fear that their own students in the same school may then lose out on resources.Many, many parents in Seattle look at this figure as a deciding factor for school choice. That’s why the Seattle Times publishes the statistic. You can call the parents who do “racist” or “classist” but that doesn’t mean they are going to stop. And that’s why schools that have a higher number of students living close to the poverty line will often have lower enrollment numbers than schools that don’t.

When I was looking at schools, I could go 2 miles to the north to Viewlands which has a building with maintenance problems and 39% of students qualifying for subsidized lunch or I could go 2 miles to the south to West Woodland which is in a beautiful new building and has a PTA that raises truly amazing funds year after year. Do I think that West Woodland should close instead of Viewlands? Absolutely not. However, I believe it is naïve or disingenuous to ask why Viewlands has lower enrollment numbers than other schools in the area. If we are looking to enrollment numbers as a deciding factor to close schools, a school that serves populations with high-needs (which Viewlands does both with its income level and with the Autism inclusion program) will always have a disadvantage. Consequently, those students who most need a stable school environment will be the hardest hit."

Gigi highlights very important issues around income and the economic (as well as racial) segregation that exists in Seattle Public Schools.

Advocacy Guidelines

During the last week or so, several people have made comments that I feel are worth highlighting. The one below is by Charlie Mas on advocacy.

"1. Always, always, always frame your statements from the perspective of what will benefit the students. You won't be effective speaking in support of programs, buildings, community good will, or policy. Your only chance is to speak in support of students.

2. Similarly, compel your oppopent to frame their remarks from the perspective of the students' benefit.

3. Do your research. If you have mistaken the facts about any element of your position it will discredit your whole position.

4. You can challenge people, but you cannot require them to accept your challenge, so do it very sparingly. The District staff do not like it when you point out their lies, contradictions, broken promises, and acts of bad faith. Calling them liars or cheats will make you appear rude or angry and will give them the opportunity to change the subject from what you are saying to how you are saying it. I believe that the two best ways to address these sorts of things are to disingenuously ask them to help you reconcile the gap between their words and the their actions (which I haven't seen work but at least doesn't create negatives for you) or apophasis - to mention something by saying that you won't discuss it i.e. "Your many broken promises to this community are not relevant to this discussion". About two years ago the Superintendent told me that he didn't appreciate being called a liar. I recommended that he stop telling lies. We haven't spoken since.

5. Consider how the position you advocate will indirectly impact other students and the District as a whole."

Thank you, Charlie, for this helpful advice on how to approach the District with demands for change.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Inequity in School Fundraising

An article called "Cashing In, Getting Extras" describes inequities in school fundraising in Chicago. But you could replace "Chicago" with "Seattle" througout the article and have a pretty accurate picture of what is happening here.

I'd like to explore the idea of pooled PTA fundraising, with some percentage of funds raised by each school put in a district-wide pool that is divided and sent back out to schools on a per-student basis. Palo Alto explored this option. Read "School-based fund-raising must be curbed" for one perspective on this issue.

And an article called "Can Parent Groups Do Too Much" raises additional interesting issues on this topic. When parents are paying teacher salaries and providing essential classroom materials, does that let the state off the hook for adequate funding of schools?

Offerings like art and foreign language, which are funded by parents, contribute to a public school system that provides unequal opportunities to children depending upon the wealth and fundraising abilities of parents at the school. That is clearly wrong.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Public Hearing on School Closure Plan

After a few days of camping with my family near Mt. Adams, I jumped back in the school closure discussion by spending the evening at the public hearing tonight on the school closure plan. As was the case last week, the majority of the speakers were from Viewlands speaking passionately about the value of their school and the case for keeping it open. Below is a short summary of what I heard tonight. Please post your comments and reactions.

Viewlands - Current problems at Greenwood that will be exacerbated by having Viewlands community arrive like "uninvited house guests." Concern over the welfare of Aspergers and Autism students located in the same building with EBD (emotionally/behaviorally disabled) program. Success of Viewlands in serving children who are from families that qualify for free-/reduced-price lunch. 90% of staff at Viewlands more than 10 years. High parent involvement.

The other school communities with multiple speakers were Rainier View and Orca.

Rainier View - Anger at being put on the closure list at "11th hour." One speaker wants Rainier View program to "take over" Emerson building, letting Emerson staff stay only if they want to "buy into" Rainier View program. Spoke of academic success at Rainier View and failure at Emerson.

Orca - Three speakers support move to Whitworth building and expansion to K-8. Spoke of promises made and action delayed in the past. One speaker wants Orca to expand to K-8, but not at expense of Whitworth program.

The rest of the speakers represented other affected schools (Pathfinder, MLK, Thurgood Marshall) and/or addressed the closure plan in general, advocating for keeping all schools open. Interesting phrases from these speakers included:
  • Closing schools is an "unimaginative solution." Appears that district has "given up" on idea of recruiting more students and "given up" on idea of lower student-teacher ratio.
  • "Fear of doing nothing has been played up so high" that Board feels compelled to close schools when that might not be the best solution.
  • Need to "roll out potential closings as part of a comprehensive plan."
  • Phase II of closure process and future difficult district discussions on issues like school choice and assignment plans need to be "transparent."
  • Potential enormous future costs of buying back school property or buying new property.
  • Equity issues. Low-income and African-American community members have "lost faith" in School Board and district.
  • Need to focus on "how did we get here" or else will face the same situation again in the future.
  • Suggestion of moving First AME Head Start to MLK building and keeping Montessori program there.
  • Several speakers mentioned their support for the recent Mary Bass plan. (see "Mary Bass Proposal for School Closure")

I spoke near the end, even though I really planned not to speak tonight. While some people interpreted my request as one for politeness, I was really asking for respectful communication. That can be angry, that can be loud, and it should be the unvarnished, emotional truth. But I can't imagine we, the community members, are really making any progress at working for change when we call the Board members racist or insinuate they are stupid or in any other way demonize them.

The School Board is not the enemy. They may not be the solution either, but School Board members are potential change agents. And when we take time to engage them in conversation (after meetings, before meetings, during breaks), we can learn from them, getting facts and opinions to fuel our advocacy work.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Thoughts on Effective Advocacy

At Wednesday night's Special School Board meeting on school closures, 18 people spoke, the vast majority from Viewlands Elementary.

I continue to be disturbed by the recommendation to merge Viewlands into Greenwood, and the lack of details on what is going to happen with the John Marshall programs, so I spoke to those concerns as well as my concerns about Phase II of the closures. (see my previous post on this topic)

Several people presented the arguments that:
  • No school should be closed.
  • The closures unfairly impact non-white, lower-income children, and children in special education programs.

As I listened, I realized that these were the same arguments I started with back in May, but that I have changed my mind. I have also changed by tone --- I was definitely one of the "angry" presenters when I started speaking at the Town Meetings, and I was speaking mostly to the community trying to create community-wide opposition to the closure process. Now, I find myself speaking more directly to the School Board and district staff, with fewer angry statements and more concrete suggestions for change.

Is this because I have learned things during the process that have changed my mind? Or because I have gotten to know the School Board members a little, and I find it difficult to make inflammatory or aggressive statements to people once I have had honest, face-to-face discussions? Or because many of the decisions I thought were the most questionable (with the exception of Viewlands and John Marshall as noted above), have been changed?

And which style of advocacy is most effective? If we want to work together to improve Seattle Public Schools, will our requests be heard best when presented loudly, with much emotion? Or in a more reasoned tone? Or do we need a little bit of both?

Several audience members interrupted district staff during the agenda discussion later in the meeting with boos and shouted contradictions. It made me quite uncomfortable, although I respect the passion behind those actions.

Now, however, I feel unsure about how to proceed. The Seattle Schools need to improve. I just don't know what the most effective style of advocacy is to work to make that happen.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Examples of Principal Assignment Problems

Looking through articles over the last couple of years, here are a few examples of how the principal assignment process has been mishandled:

- Principal move upsets West Seattle High

- Seattle school district pays principal to resign

- For school leaders' sins, golden parachutes

- School-principal transfers cause some upset

My guess is that there are many, many more stories about problems with the principal assignment and selection process that aren't documented in the press. For example, the process (or lack of process) at Graham Hill Elementary as seven principals in six years have been assigned to the school is truly appalling.

Please post your school's principal assignment stories as comments on this blog. The more we know about what is going on around the district, the stronger our collective voice will be.

Tommorow's Special Board Meeting on School Closure

The Superintendent's Final Recommendation on School Closure and Consolidation is the sole agenda item for tomorrow night's Special Board Meeting. (7/12, 6 pm at the Stanford Center)

Only 7 people are currently signed up to speak, but up to 13 additional people can sign up at the door. Of those 7 people, one is from Viewlands. Any other people plannning from Viewlands to speak? Anyone from John Marshall?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Principal Assignment Process and the 5 Year Plan

Tonight I read through the Detailed Action Plans which spell out how the district aims to accomplish everything in the 5 Year Plan.

For the issue of principal assignment, which I posted about yesterday, here are the details:
  • Meet with Superintendent, CAO, Education Directors and HR to debrief the 2003-04 Principal Selection Process and Timelines. (HR Director)
  • Meet with the PASS Resolution Team (5 PASS and 5 District team members) to review 2003-04 Principal Selection Process and Timeline, review recommendations from Superintendent committee, determine what worked and what needs to be changed, and develop recommendations. (Labor Relations Director)
  • Take PASS Resolution Team recommendations to PAL Committee for review, discussion and possible development of a public review process. (HR Director)
  • Implement 2004-05 Principal Selection Process and Timeline. (Human Resources)

All of this was to be completed in 2004/2005. Did any of it happen? I certainly can't find any evidence of it.

Here are the people to follow-up with on this question if you, like me, are appalled with the principal assignment process:

Please post here and let us know what you find out about the Principal Selection Process and Timeline.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Principal Assignment Process

Below is an excerpt from the district's five-year plan, last updated in May 2005.

**************

To Improve District Leadership, We Will:

  1. Recruit, develop, retain, and promote highly effective and diverse leaders system-wide by:
    - Increasing the number of leadership staff who reflect the diversity of the student population;
    - Developing a targeted and coordinated professional development program that includes cultural competence;
    - Revising the principal selection, assignment, and transfer process to enhance family and community involvement and make the process smoother;
    - Improving morale and working conditions (environmental health, physical health, and emotional health);
    - Working with our higher education partners to improve their teacher and leader training programs for urban school districts; and
    - Developing and implementing a staffing plan for Seattle Public Schools that includes, but is not limited to, workforce diversity, staff recruitment, staff retention, staff recognition, staff deployment, compensation, and instructional needs;

    **************

This excerpt raises several issues.

1) This five-year plan is both too detailed and too vague. Five goals, all worthy, are vague enough that they could mean anything and everything. Just this one point under the leadership goal has six bullet points, all of which would be time-consuming efforts to fully accomplish. It is not possible for the district to realistically pursue all the efforts outlined in this plan. The district should pick fewer objectives, and then truly focus on accomplishing them.

2) The objective the district should focus on now is the one I highlighted above in bold:

"Revising the principal selection, assignment, and transfer process to enhance family and community involvement and make the process smoother"

I have not been able to find any official district policy on how the principal selection, assignment and transfer process is supposed to work, but the reality I have observed and read about is appalling.

3) A well-written five-year plan with a realistic scope and appropriate focus should be guiding all policy decisions and discussions. It would ensure consistent direction by staff and Board members, and help improve communications with a clear message. The five-year plan, as written, is useless for any of these purposes, which is probably why I have not heard a single staff person or Board member refer to it during policy discussions.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Recent News Articles on School Closure

The proposed Viewlands merger (which is strongly opposed by that community) and the lack of details on what is happening to the programs at John Marshall are the two most troubling parts of the Superintendent's final recommendations for me.

Here are some recent news articles that touch on both of those issues:

--- School seeking options to avoid closure

--- Final list of school closures released (text and video)

--- Manhas trims school-closure list to seven

--- Up to 11 Seattle schools to be closed (can post comments)

Finalizing Phase I & Moving on to Phase II

At tonight's School Board meeting, I requested two things as Phase I of the school closures is finalized and we move on to Phase II:

- Legitimate community involvement: not just asking for public response to plans, but actually involving community members when generating suggestions.
  • The district is aiming to identify 3 more school buildings for closure by a September 18th deadline (one in the North, one in Central, one in West Seattle). Those decisions (called "Phase II" of the school closure plan) will be extremely difficult to make and need to be handled in a collaborative manner, with a focus always on what is best for the children and families involved. I still question whether 3 more closures are needed, but if the process is going forward, it needs to have grassroots involvement from the start.
  • The district is also going to begin discussing changes to student assignment and transportation plans. Get the community at the table from the beginning, in a real and meaningful way, and the suggestions generated will be better.
  • Principal assignment decisions connected to the closure and consolidation process must not be made by the superintendent and district staff without consulting the affected communities. The overall principal assignment process should also be examined to prevent a situation like the one that occurred at Graham Hill (where 7 principals were assigned in 6 years, all without community input) from repeating itself elsewhere in the future.

- More openness with information: in a two-way, honest exchange of information between Board and/or district staff and community members.

  • The lack of detail about what is happening to the John Marshall programs generates rumors and uncertainty.
  • The lack of information about what building the New School will get and what building the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center will get --- both schools that have been promised buildings by the district in an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) --- continues to fuel speculation.
  • The decision to send the Viewlands preschool to Whittier, which was apparently made one day, changed the next day because of public outrage, and now, according to the superintendent's recommendations, is back on the table for consideration, gives rise to bitterness and lack of trust.
  • Public hearings and chances for community input were plentiful throughout the school closure process. What was lacking was a chance for School Board members and district staff to present their ideas and opinions to the public or, more ideally, to engage in 2-way conversation.

Superintendent's Final Recommendations

The Superintendent's final recommendations are out and posted at:

--- Summary

--- Full report

No real surprises to me. It follows what I suggested in my post "Positive Change Likely in Closure Plan" and what was suggested in a related Seattle Times article that day.

- Graham Hill stays open.

- Rainier View merges with Emerson in the nice, new Emerson building.

- Pathfinder stays where it is, pending further discussion.

- Viewlands merges with Greenwood. (I think this is the least well thought-out recommendation, and would like to see more details on how the district thinks this will work.)

All other items from the preliminary recommendations remain the same.

I have only looked at the summary, but will post again later today when I have read the full report.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Mary Bass Proposal for School Closure

Mary Bass is very focused on the impact of school closures on her district.

Read "Bass Has Alternative Proposal For Seattle School Closures" in the Seattle Medium for details on what she is proposing.

I don't know enough about the proposal to know whether or not it has merit, but I appreciate that Mary is thinking creatively and considering options outside of the strict parameters imposed by the current school closure process.

From the School Board perspective, her proposal is probably unwelcome since they are trying to move to agreement, closing off options, rather than considering new ones.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

An MLK Viewpoint

Excerpted from public testimony at the 6/27 MLK site closure hearing.

"My name is Mike Moore. I'm a volunteer at MLK. A proud volunteer at MLK. I been here since June of '04 through the present, two years, 24 months. And I am in favor of the consolidation.

And I got to tell you a little bit as to why. And to do that, I got to give you a brief brush on 24 months of volunteerism here. And that is, when we first started, we had 170. We went to 134. We went to 115, actually 107, and bounced to 115. That's our enrollment numbers.

So what we had to do when we got here, under Barry's direction, was build up our enrollment. And that was number one. So Barry and I created a job for me, which was enrollment, try to recruit people, try to get community support, try to get parent support, and raise money. And to that end, we put together a committee, a marketing committee that would have blown your socks off. We had parents, partners, some staff, and everybody on it. And we put together a heck of a plan that even Madison Avenue would have been proud of.

And we went out trenches, trenches, and trenches, and face to face, and started trying to recruit people in all these different venues.

And I got to tell you, the people did not come. The people did not come. We tried like mad. We have a real jam here in '04, '05. You could cut the spirit with a knife. You could stand in front of Barry's office. You could sense it when you walked in this place. And the teachers and everybody were in it.

I don't have any more time. So I'll end this with some suggestions that the board ought to look into. Number one, they ought to read this report over and over again. It is great. In fact, they ought to adopt the whole thing. It is as good as the Grace report, which was accepted by the U.S. government, put together by Peter Grace.

And, secondly, you got to concentrate on the principals. The principals are what make a successful school. There are four ingredients that make a successful school in my opinion of 24 months. And that is a strong principal, number one. A community support as strong as you can make it, number two. A strong parental support, as much you can. And lastly, you need some outside money."