Monday, October 30, 2006

School Board Meeting Agenda on Wednesday

The agenda for this Wednesday's School Board Meeting is interesting.

I'm sure the turnout will be smaller than it would have been if Phase II were still under consideration, but several people are still signed up to talk about school closures. The merger of Broadview-Thompson and Viewlands with an expansion to a K-8 program is on the table for Wednesday night. This is the one recommendation from Phase II that seems to have support, and so it is being brought up again for discussion by the Board.

Two other school closure and consolidation issues are:

  • Proposed changes to the student assignment plan for 2007-08, which seem to be just a matter of putting into policy the promises that were made during discussions around Phase I consolidations and closures about enrollment preferences for children in the affected schools and their siblings.
  • The extension of several one-year changes to the student assignment plan for another year, with the exception of the Orca preference for enrollment to Salmon Bay K-8 which the proposal would allow to disappear because Orca is moving towards becoming a K-8 itself, adding 6th grade next year, and an additional grade the two following years.
Several people are also signed up to talk about Rainier Beach High School, which I'm guessing, means testifying about the proposal to put a TAF Academy at that school. Some people testified to their opposition to this idea at the last School Board meeting. I'm interested to see if the testimony on Wednesday presents more information about the proposal and the community opposition to it.

I'd like to know what the status of the proposal is. At the last meeting, one person said it was "announced as a done deal." Another person (on staff at Rainier Beach) said that wasn't true, but that the issue (and communication in general) had been handled badly enough that he could understand why that was the perception.

The district does an awful job with communication, and should certainly have included community participation from the start in the decision-making. But, for a moment, ignoring those valid issues, is the decision to have a TAF high-tech high at Rainier Beach really bad for the community? The work that the non-profit TAF has done, focused specifically on children of color, has been extremely successful. From what I can tell, this does not seem to be a profit-driven decision or a move to privatize schools. Rather, it seems to be the work of one talented, committed woman to improve education for children of color.

However, the Rainier Beach High School community may have valid reasons for opposing this proposal, so I look forward to learning more on Wednesday. See Tech foundation aims to open schools and TAF Academy Overview for more details.

APP Update

I was recently asked, on this blog, if I had any direct experience with the threat of school closures. The person asking the question was aware that I am father to a student at Lowell, but wasn't aware of the changes pending at that school and in Advanced Learning programs. So, just in case anyone is interested, I will bring everyone up to date on what is going on in APP.

The Program Placement Committee has made an initial recommendation that, starting in 2008, both Hamilton International Middle School and Washington Middle School will offer APP. The program at Hamilton will start with sixth graders in 2008, will have sixth and seventh graders in 2009, and will have all three grades of APP starting in 2010. It has not yet been determined how many APP students will be a Hamilton, how they will be chosen, or how they will be served. It has not yet been determined which, if any, of the APP teachers at Washington will transfer to Hamilton. It is not clear whether the community at Hamilton is even aware of the decision, let alone the consequences of such a decision.

The APP community strongly preferred keeping the cohort together. We are a community and do not care to be split up any more than any other community would like to be split up. Establishing APP at Hamilton presents a number of challenges. So far, the APP community has expressed their commitment to make a good faith effort to confront these challenges and make the proposal work, but that the proposal will not be succesful without support from the District, the administration and staff at each of the buildings, and the school communities to an extent that has not yet been demonstrated.

The Program Placement Committee did not address the issue of overcrowding at Lowell. They will defer that decision until the resolution of the closure and consolidation decisions in the Central Cluster. They did, however, notice that the students with IEPs at Lowell - there is a significant low-incidence Special Education program there - did not have access to general education classrooms and therefore were not in the least restrictive environment as required by law. Lowell has APP and SPED students, but no general education students. To rectify this situation, Program Placement has recommended that the SPED students be relocated to another building for next year. The new location has not yet been determined. That puts these fragile students and their families in a situtation similar to the situation of the John Marshall students. The District has a long way to go to make this right.

Other than failing to meet this legal requirement, the two programs at Lowell are extremely well matched. There are some strong friendships between the APP and SPED students and both groups of students find an unusual degree of acceptance with each other. Lowell has two programs, but one community. This recommendation from Program Placement is hard to accept. My kids have benefited tremendously from sharing a school with the low-incidence Special Education students and I have heard reciprocal reports from families of SPED students.

Program Placement may make recommendations next year regarding APP at Lowell. There is a significant possibility that Lowell could be re-purposed as a neighborhood school - the district needs the additional capacity in Capitol Hill close to Eastlake and a split APP cohort wouldn't begin to make use of the available capacity. In that case, it will seem an unnecessary expense and disruption to have moved the SPED students out of the building. The Program Placement Committee will make their final recommendation in November and the Superintendent will make decisions regarding program placement for 2007 in December.

I almost had to laugh when I was asked if I ever had to deal with the possibility that my child's school would close. I have been in constant struggle with Seattle Public Schools for over five years regarding their support for Advanced Learning programs. For years I defended Spectrum, and I continue to do so. APP seemed safe compared to Spectrum, but now APP does not appear safe at all. For those of you deep in school closure issues, welcome. My children's school and program have been under constant and severe threat for over five years and I know that they will be continue to be under severe threat for at least two years to come. That's why it may seem that APP and Spectrum families testify before the Board a lot - we have been fighting for our schools for years. Many people don't know about APP and Spectrum, many don't recognize the need for such programs. There are not a lot of people who would have sympathy for Spectrum or APP if they should be elminated. There are, in fact, a number of people who strongly oppose the very existence of these programs, many of them within the District, everywhere from parents in schools, to teachers in classrooms, to principals, to District staff, and all the way to the Board.

You haven't heard about all of these changes because Spectrum and APP are programs, not schools. The Superintendent can relocate or eliminate programs at his discretion. It does not require the vote of the Board nor a public hearing. There doesn't have to be any public process at all. It is not reported in the newspapers. If you're not a party to it, there is little reason for you to know about it. APP and Spectrum families generally don't talk about their children's participation in the programs very much. There is a lot of animosity towards the programs so we just don't mention it. When asked where my daughter goes to school, I usually say "on Capitol Hill".

Anyway, if I ever appear, in person or in writing, as a grizzled veteran, it's because I am.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Little Blog Business

I started this blog a little over five months ago out of frustration with Phase I of the school closure plan, and a desire to keep communicating with others I had met around the district during Town Meetings and public hearings.

Now, the blog has gotten large enough and has enough traffic (150-250 different people with 350-500 hits per day during weekdays of the last few busy weeks) that it is time to take care of a little blog business.

1) I have invited several people to become Contributors to the blog, which gives them the ability to post items directly, without having to send it to me first. The benefit of this was clear on the day Raj resigned when I was in a 3-hour meeting as the news was announced, but Johnny Calcagno was able to post the news and initiate the conversation. I also cannot continue to spend as much time every day on this blog as I have been doing recently, so it will be nice to share the posting load with others.

My goal is to have 8-10 contributors, connected with all stages of public school (elementary, middle, high), from different areas of the city, and with different interest areas (bilingual, special education, alternative education, APP, etc.). Ideally, in addition to having parents as contributors, I would like to have some teachers, district staff or other community members as contributors, but I'm not sure if that is realistic right now.

If you are interested in being a contributor, you can send a message letting me know about your connection to the schools and your interests, along with a sample of your writing.

2) I changed the name of the blog --- at least the name that appears at the top of the blog --- from "Saving Seattle Public Schools" to "Seattle Public Schools" because "Saving" didn't seem to be an accurate description of what we are trying to do for Seattle Public Schools. I played around with the idea of holding a naming brainstorm on the blog, but, for now have decided that simple is better. The URL may also change in the future, but only if I can arrange for auto-forwarding or some other easy way to get people from the current URL to the new one.

3) Several people have told me that it is difficult for them to follow the comments on the blog, particularly when conversations are happening on several different posts at once. As the blog administrator, I get an e-mail every time someone posts a comment, with a link at the bottom to the actual comment on the blog, so it is easy for me to follow. How does it work for blog readers? Can you get comments e-mailed to you? And if so, how? I could dig in Blogger Help to try to find answers to these questions, but I'm hoping (expecting) that some of you already know what to do and can give advice to others on how to managing commenting.

4) I am considering writing commenting guidelines that define what is and what isn't acceptable when commenting on this blog. Does this seem like a good idea? Why or why not?

When I was talking with Brita Butler-Wall the morning of the last School Board meeting, she made a reference to "your blog community." I was struck by that phrase, and reminded of the fact that it is truly possible to create community online, and to work together for positive change.

Press Coverage on School Closure Issue

The coverage by the press, especially the Seattle Times, has been very frustrating over the last two weeks. Below is an excerpt from a letter sent by Pathfinder parent, Jennifer Giomi, to the Seattle Times, expressing very clearly some of the problems with the coverage.

*********
...in your column today you portray Raj as a great man whose been given the shaft. A recent editorial also spoke of our "effective" Superintendent as have many other articles. I too think Raj Manhas is probably a lovely, caring man with many skills and abilities. Though I'm not personally familiar with all aspects of his leadership during his career with the public schools, I'm sure he's made some achievements. However, that does not mean he/the District is infallible. Why has the Times not devoted any space to independent analysis of his recommendations? Could it not be that some are better than others? Could it not be that the Board supported Phase I of schools closures because while difficult, the recommendations made more sense? Could it be that they did not support Phase II because the recommendations did not. Yes, the Board asked him to close schools, but would they be responsible if they closed schools that did not fit with the criteria and objectives set forth in the closure process?

And, where has the Times analysis of this process been? School closures will never be popular, but I believe there can be public "buy in" if there is a dialogue between involved parties. Public testimony is a fine way to get one's concerns out to the public, but there is no way to know if you've been heard. During this closure process, my experience has been that the District has done a very poor job of responding to schools' concerns or even giving more than one or two paragraphs of "plan" to each recommendation.

That is no way to get "buy in" from school communities that can't see the logic in a proposal or understand how it fits the criteria. As school communities, with two-way dialogue we might not get the answers we want to hear, but at least we could have some level of confidence that there is a plan and that there is a logic behind something that seems illogical. In a vacuum of communication, the conclusion tends to be that there is no response, no plan, no answers to your questions.

... Does the Times realize that in its recent coverage of events, it is not just reporting a situation, but creating it? Could the Board's actions on 10/18 be seen as showing supreme leadership? If the votes to pass the second round of closures were not there (and they weren't), wasn't it a great act of leadership not to waste the time and energy (and taxpayer monies) of all involved to continue the same process, which wasn't working, to get the same outcome two weeks later? Why does the Times assume the District was correct and the Board and communities affected were not correct in their assessment of this round of recommendations?

Could Brita-Butler Wall's offer to step down as President of the Board be viewed as taking responsibilty for something she felt she did poorly, a strong leadership trait? Could Raj's resignation be viewed as admission that he feels he's done the best he can, but someone with a different skill set is needed to move forward? Knowing when to let someone else lead is also an important trait in a leader. I believe the answer is "yes" to many of these questions. Though you may not agree, you owe your readers an opportunity to decide for themselves.

I'm in NO WAY trying to argue that the Board is without flaws or the District is evil, but where is the reporting of the deeper issues here?

...I implore you to investigate more deeply the issues surrounding our public schools and, if necessary, bring to light and analyze the deeper issues so that everyone may have constructive conversation...Please look at future recommendations on the subjects of closure, transportation, school choice or whatever on their merits as they align with District objectives. Please work to be an informative source and a constructive force, instead of one that perpetuates and, in some cases, creates divisiveness.

I believe strong public schools are vital to a healthy democracy. I know that sensationalism and radicals sell papers, but on the issue of public schools, please weigh every word you write against whether or not it contributes to a better understanding of the issues. Our schools and our children are too important to do anything less.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Enrollment Declines and Financial Chaos

Marguerite Roza, from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at UW, and a member of the CACIEE, wrote an interesting piece recently for Education Week called Must Enrollment Declines Spell Financial Chaos for Districts?

She writes, "The crux of the problem is that while some revenue streams are dependent on student counts, expenditures are not...The idea proposed here is that a much larger share of district resources be allocated on the basis of enrollments, not only to schools, but also to departments, services, operations, administration, or other district functions."

The following excerpt seems quite relevant for Seattle schools:

"Budgeting per pupil might seem harsh when enrollment is declining, since schools can end up with fewer dollars than they had the previous year. But this approach, when coupled with a choice system, also puts decisions about how to handle declining revenues and whether or not to close or merge schools in the hands of the parents and the schools, not district staff members who have little stake in the matter. For schools, declining resources signal an early wake-up call to redesign (possibly as an intentional small school), or, where viable, recruit more students. Schools get closed when parents begin to opt out for other schools with higher enrollments. "

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Redefine Roles for School Board and Superintendent

Maybe the biggest problem with the Seattle School Board is not who is on the Board, but instead how the role of the School Board is defined, including, of course, the relationship between the superintendent and the School Board.

A popular reaction to School Board dysfunction around the country is to turn to the Policy Governance model as defined by John Carver. In this model, the School Board defines the vision, providing clear policy direction, and then holds the Superintendent and district staff accountable for making it happen. The Mercer Island School Board received training in and adopted this model in 2004. Many other urban school districts around the country, including Austin, Texas, have adopted this model in recent years as well.

"A radical redesign of the function of school boards, Carver explains, would include (1) a focus on educational results rather than on the methods by which they were achieved, (2) newly defined relationships with the general public and parents, and (3) a commitment on the part of the board to speak with one voice rather than as a group of individuals with individual agendas."

While I like the quote from Carver above (especially the part I put in bold), I have some concerns about the appropriateness of the Policy Governance model for School Boards. The model was developed for private for-profit and non-profit organizations, on which the Board members are not public elected officials.

A different perspective on School Board governance models is provided by William Price, a former superintendent and current professor of Education, in his article Policy Governance Revisited. He addresses the specific issues raised by having elected School Board members, along with recent trends that have changed expectations of school superintendents.

"What seems clear is that in the search for the heroic leader who will single-handedly cure a troubled organization, governing boards are unwittingly changing the Board/CEO relationship... School boards (as well as some corporate boards) are, through their executive searches, seeking a CEO who will be expected to, among other things, forge a vision for the organization, translate that vision into a strategic plan and lead a campaign for increasing financial resources. Boards also seek candidates who will be expected to build coalitions in the community that resolve competing interests among the various stakeholders...In a Policy Governance model, many of these tasks would rest not with the CEO, but with the governing board."

"The argument over policy versus operations as it relates to school boards and superintendents is rooted in an outdated view of school districts as organizations and of the current nature of the superintendency. Many superintendents now seem less concerned with the frequent overlapping of roles and responsibilities between the board and the superintendent and more concerned that both parties at least agree on who is expected to do what task in a given situation...This is consistent with much of the past research on the importance of developing and nurturing a cooperative relationship between the superintendent and the board by a carefully choreographed negotiated system of the sharing of roles and responsibilities. Such an interactive relationship avoids getting into an unnecessary contest over roles that too often detracts from the real mission of the school district."

So before the hiring process for the new superintendent begins, and before the next round of School Board elections, we need to spend some time defining what the expectations of those roles are, and how the relationship between them will be defined, and redefined as necessary, over time.

References

http://www.asbj.com/governance/index.html - collection of links on School Governance by the American School Board Journal

School Governance - National School Boards Association

Using School Board Policy To Improve Student Achievement

More Boards Mulling 'Policy Governance'

Effective School Governance

New Patterns of School Governance

The Danger of Ignoring Issues of Race

The PI has a thoughtful piece today, School closures bring out worst in us, by columnist Robert Jamieson, which directly addresses the racial issues involved in both school closures and the recent turmoil at School Board meetings.

If the new superintendent continues down the path of ignoring racial and cultural issues, including the history of school district interaction with different groups in Seattle, efforts at substantial system change will continue to meet strong opposition. The problems of the district cannot be reduced to numbers --- test scores, and dollars and cents --- and solutions cannot be that narrowly focused either.

I am appalled that activist Sakara Remmu has faced threats because of a combination of her work opposing the school closures and the racial tensions in our city that won't go away, even if we ignore them. Going forward, our work to improve Seattle schools has to acknowledge and address this distressing reality.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Whose Fault Is It Anyway?

During the last few days, I've been involved in several conversations about whose "fault" it is that the district is having such large problems. The argument has tended to divide people into two camps: the people who believe it is Raj's fault, and the people who believe it is the School Board's fault. I certainly lean heavily towards the side of blaming Raj, but obviously, there is plenty of shared responsibility and blame to go around.

Discussing the "Whose fault is it anyway?" question doesn't necessarily help us move forward with improving Seattle Public Schools. Yet, it is important to understand what has gone wrong in order to work on "fixing" it and preventing similar problems in the future.

On that note, I share this message from Charlie Mas:

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

I read Lynne Varner's editorial in the Times today and she and I have exchanged email about it. The end result is this question: How much leadership should the Board members show and what form should that leadership take?

Let's face it, the District doesn't have a strategic plan, doesn't have an academic plan, doesn't have a plan for closing the academic achievement gap, didn't communicate the closures correctly, doesn't engage the community effectively, and doesn't present an attractive face to the public. I can say that the Superintendent failed in all of these ways, but did the Board fail in all of these ways as well?

I am of the opinion that leadership by committee is impossible. Committees diffuse responsibility and muffle voices.

I have also concluded that the school boards were never expected to take on these sorts of challenges under these sorts of conditions. Things were a lot simpler when the money all came from the state, the state set the teacher salaries, there was no expectation to educate students like some that now appear in our schools in large numbers, and parent expectations were notably lower. School Board Directorships were largely honorary positiions. I think it takes a pretty extraordinary sort of person to get the job done today, so I don't blame the current Board members for their inability to get it done.

Today's Events

Two interesting Seattle Schools' events today:

- At 12:56 pm, the Which Way Seattle? Series: Inequality in Public Education on the Seattle Channel, cable channel 21 or live on the web by clicking the Seattle Channel Live link.

- Tonight from 7 pm to 8:30 pm, the Third Annual Forum: Arts Education in Seattle Public Schools at the Nathan Hale High School Performing Arts Center. A free event sponsored by the Seattle Arts Commission, the Mayor's Office of the Arts & Cultural Affairs and Seattle Public Schools. Chief Academic Officer Carla J. Santorno will discuss next steps to putting the arts back in education, and Superintendent Raj Manhas will present a 2005-06 progress report. For more information call (206) 684-7171 or send a message to arts.culture@seattle.gov.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Support for BEX III

I think the district made some mistakes when they put together the list of projects for BEX III. I agree with comments by Charlie Mas, Mel Westbrook and others about some of the problems with the proposal. But, I believe we should still support passage of BEX III.

Why? I met with Fred Stephens (Director of Facilities), Don Gilmore (BEX III Manager), and Kathy Johnson (Facilities Planning Manager) last week and had my questions answered satisfactorily. I was favorably impressed with the staff, their knowledge, and their willingness to share information and background on the project.

My sense is that defeating BEX III would just delay the much needed repairs to and rennovations of many buildings around the district.

Public Relations Campaign for Seattle Schools?

I was on the Dave Ross show on KIRO from 9 to 10 am this morning talking about Seattle schools. It was an interesting experience. I got woken up at 7:15 this morning with a phone call inviting me to come in and talk about the issues facing our city's schools.

As part of that conversation, Dave suggested that parents get together, raise money, and do a public relations campaign on behalf of the Seattle School District, communicating why we stay in Seattle and in the public schools, and telling the stories of the fabulous teachers and programs that are available.

I wonder if this is something that either Communities and Parents for Public Schools (CPPS) or Alliance for Education would take on. And would it make a difference?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Finding a New Superintendent for Seattle Schools

Now that Raj has resigned, it's appropriate to revisit two recent posts on this blog:

Hiring a New Superintendent (10/14)

Seattle Needs a Superintendent Who Knows Schools (10/9)

What do you think the criteria should be for a new superintendent? My top critieria is leadership.

Seattle Education Association Meeting Today

The Seattle Education Association (SEA) resolution to pull support for school closures will be voted on today by the SEA Representative Assembly at West Seattle High School. The meeting begins at 4:15.

My understanding is that it is a public meeting --- anyone can attend --- but only SEA Representatives can speak or vote.

Chris Jackins is working to organize parents and teachers who support the resolution to either attend the meeting or at least be present before the meeting starts to show support.

KUOW Report: Raj to step down

KUOW just had an announcement that Raj is stepping down.

Here's a link to the P-I article: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/289654_manhas23ww.html

and the article:

Manhas to resign
Seattle schools chief won't seek contract extension.
Monday, October 23, 2006
By JESSICA BLANCHARD, P-I REPORTER

Seattle Schools Superintendent Raj Manhas, at the helm of a district with a looming financial crisis and deeply divided over closing schools, is leaving his post.

Manhas said this afternoon that he will fulfill the last year of his contract, but not seek an extension when his present agreement expires next year.

"After careful consideration, I have decided that this year will be my final year as superintendent of Seattle Public Schools," he said. "This is a personal decision I have made in the interests of my family."

He said by announcing his decision now, he will give the district a chance to launch a full search for a successor.

Manhas' three years in the job have becoming increasingly tumultuous, spurred largely by his plans to close elementary schools. The closures themselves result from the second heavy burden of his job: financial difficulties that could leave the district awash in red ink unless it cuts costs and brings in more money.

In 2005, Manhas proposed closing schools but gave up in the face of community uproar. This year, he tried again, using a lengthy public process to give parents a say. This summer, the School Board agreed to close seven school buildings. But a second Manhas plan to close three additional buildings never got off the ground. The board tabled that proposal last week after an extended, heated -- and at times ugly -- public hearing at which parents and community leaders dumped on the superintendent's proposal and criticized him by name.

Manhas was the district's chief operating officer in June 2003 when the board made him interim superintendent after Joseph Olchefske resigned. A national search for a permanent superintendent collapsed, and Manhas got the job for good in October 2003.

Manhas, who as a master's degree in engineering, became the third consecutive Seattle superintendent whose background was not in education. He came to the district from Seattle Public Utilities where he was director of field operations. He had also been in banking.
Manhas is paid about $177,000 a year.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Board Members Did Not "Back Down"

I'm extremely frustrated with press coverage that suggests that Seattle School Board members who voted to table the school closure motion "backed down" in the face of public pressure or changed their minds about school closures.

As I said in my testimony at the Board meeting on Wednesday, I am clear about whose proposal was voted down. It was Raj's proposal. The School Board members didn't like the preliminary recommendations or the process used to develop them, and they were open and honest about that with Raj. Raj was unwilling to change his mind about two of the recommendations or to do what Brita Butler-Wall requested, and pull the entire Phase II recommendation.

Wednesday's Board meeting was the first time Board members could discuss the proposal and react to it formally in public. The five Board members who voted to table the Phase II recommendations did so despite the fact that three of them believe in the importance of closing schools. They did so because they were presented with recommendations that failed to consider the academic implications of the proposed changes.

Today's Seattle Times editorial, This isn't any way to run Seattle schools, also makes two ridiculous statements:

1) "We have a superintendent who could be effective if he had a board to back him."

2) "The cool heads of board members Michael DeBell and Cheryl Chow were not enough to prevail and the board inexplicably tabled the closures issue."

Listen to coverage on this issue on KUOW today from 25:04 to 32:25 and then from 43:12 to 44:17 in the audio file. Sakara Remu brought up the "structural funding gap" and the fact that school closures won't solve that. Susan Paynter said "Chow and DeBell were the ones who had the most spine in this situation." Knute Berger says "...they should have just declared victory [after Phase I] and moved on." And I managed to get on right near the end to say that the School Board did not change their mind. They voted to close seven schools and would have been willing to close more if Raj had brought forward recommendations that made sense from an academic perspective.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Let's Be Clear About What Happened Last Night

Having watched the video now and listened to much conversation on this topic today, I think it's important that we make clear that the discussion about the "raucous" and "violent" and "heated" meeting does not give a clear picture about what happened last night.

One very disturbed man acted completely inappropriately and was removed from the room twice by security guards. However, that action had very little to do with schools and school closure, and seemed to be instead a case of mental instability and racial hatred.

A lot of other testimony was angry and emotionally --- in my opinion, appropriately so. And some people tried to interrupt the meeting with civil disobedience, which was peaceful.

Below is a comment from the United Cooper Advocacy Group on this issue.

The United Cooper Advocacy Group would like to make a statement regarding the School Board meeting on October 18, 2006:

The United Cooper Advocacy Group (UCAG) is pleased with the School Board decision to indefinitely table the Phase II school closure proposal. We feel that Cooper (and Pathfinder) parents passionately and respectfully (over the past 6 weeks) presented meaningful testimony to the Seattle School Board. We have continually stated that the phase II recommendations were ill conceived, morally questionable and lacked community support.

We strongly recommend that if/when future school closure discussions occur that it becomes a comprehensive process that involves parents, community members, teachers and administrators. We are very supportive to help remedy any budget issue as long as we can work together as a community to solve these problems.

As to the unfortunate incident that occurred at the meeting, we want to be very clear that this was the act of one “troubled” individual that had absolutely no affiliation with Cooper Elementary or Pathfinder. We were disappointed to see this incident detract from an otherwise impassioned and peaceful public testimony.

United Cooper Advocacy Group

Seattle School Closures on "The Conversation"

Excerpts from KUOW's The Conversation on 10/19/06:

Regarding the decision to table the Phase II closure recommendation:

Brita Butler-Wall: "I did not feel that the administration made their case for this particular set of recommendations. Nor did I believe that the process that was used in Phase II reflected our values of transparency and inclusiveness, and therefore fairness."

Michael DeBell: "Tabling it did not give us a chance to deliberate on the final recommendations. I had hoped that the School Board members could examine what the superintendent had offered and potentially make changes that would make it more acceptable and move forward...We certainly had vocal opposition from communities that were affected...The question is, 'Are the tradeoffs involved worth the sacrifice that community has to make?' and that's what I wanted to get at...ultimately, we still have to grapple with the question of having more buildings than we really need. And we can't really drop that issue."

Brita Butler-Wall: (confirmed that she called Raj last Friday and said she wouldn't support proposal and asked him to withdraw Phase II recommendation from Board agenda) I respect his decision to go forward. I can understand him wanting to finish out that process...I think it was important for people to have an opportunity to speak up...I think that he (Raj) is on the right track for staying on this path of closing schools. I do not think this process was the right process.

Regarding tone

Michael DeBell: "I really agree with Director Chow...I thought the way the adults were behaving and the level of discourse was quite disturbing...personal insults, especially toward the Superintedent...the idea of shouting and screaming rather than discussing the question...the threat of shutting down our meeting...We really need those we come to our meetings...to try and be respectful."

Brita Butler-Wall: "There are many different styles of discourse...makes me want to consider opening up additional mechanisms so there can be two-way respectful dialogue. I have weekly office hours...and that is definitely a place where I have very good two-way conversations with people about issues...Some of the people who were shouting the loudest last night, I have sat in meetings with and have certainly seem them be as respectful and calm as one could hope to find...there is seomthing about seeing people sit on a dias...that brings out shouting and screaming when they felt the relatively calm testimony at the site hearings was ignored."

Is the discussion about closing schools over?

Brita Butler-Wall: "I don't think so. I think it's back to the drawing board...I think it's really critical...I actually have some ideas about starting use a regional community look...drawing in some of our leaders from around town to help design that process....the problem is not going away, in fact it is going to get worse. We have structural underfunding of public education."

Board Action to Table Raj's Phase II Recommendation Indefinitely

Excerpts from the Board meeting last night regarding Raj's Phase II recommendations:

Irene Stewart: "Move to postpone this particular motion indefinitely...In my view, that does not preclude any one portion of it coming back for consideration, but I would expect it to be done in a far more sensible, open, communicative way, so that we can find some success...I don't see success in this motion. I don't think it can pass, but even if it did, I think we would have so many problems that we would pay a price for many, many, many years to come. Let's do what we need to do, but let's do it right, and that means with the community involved and finding real solutions."

Darlene Flynn: "I am supporting this motion and it is not because of the demonstration tonight. I think demonstrations and speak-outs are good things...I'm not satisfied that we have worked out the solution as well as we could have. This will give us the opportunity to have some more of those conversations that are much more inclusive, much more complete and sensitive. And I believe that...we will find solutions to some of the problems that didn't get found on our way to tonight."

Cheryl Chow: "I don't believe that people have the right to make personal attacks. I don't believe that people have the right to slander or to use ethnic slurs or comments....I try to hear what is being said. I also try to keep in mind the big picture. And the big picture is what are we doing for the children in the classrooms. The state does not fund us appropriately....That's why we are sitting here making tough decisions...It is painful for all of us...What happened tonight is an embarassment...I will be voting against this amendment. However, I will move forward to work with my colleagues and district staff to come up with a situation where we can get people to the table and talk."

Sally Soriano: "I find the process that we have used, both in Phase and in Phase II, an embarassment. Until behavior turns around in this district, I can no longer use the word "collaborative." Until behavior turns around in this district, I can no longer use the word "authentic." Maybe the behavior will change...need to go back and look at Phase I...if we don't go back...we will just keep making the same mistakes."

Michael DeBell: "I felt like democracy was in danger here tonight. A politicial culture of intimidation, insult...that's not the way to move forward...For those of you who feel very strongly, you can run next year. It's a difficult job. The issues are very difficult to deal with because they have trade-offs. We do not have unlimited resources. We cannot satisfy everyone's desire to keep their school, that they love so dearly...I'm voting against this motion because I believe deliberation is very important, and instead we are tabling this motion indefinitely. That won't allow us to learn all the lessons we can from this process...When you are intimidating us and insulting us, and especially when you insult the staff, it also hurts me, because you are diminishing the entire school district."

Mary Bass: "I actually am very proud...I think it was very remarkable what we saw tonight. It was a full, packed room of faces we hadn't seen in a very long time...unified on very, very similar topics across the board...Civil disobedience in my book is not a bad thing. When people aren't heard, they are going to speak louder. When people aren't heard, they are going to do things to get your attention. It's been a very long year and a half with regards to closures, and we have lost a lot of people along the way, and they've lost faith in this district...we've got a problem with Phase I, and we're going to have to rethink that. So going forward, on a very corrupt and flawed process based on very flawed numbers is the wrong thing to do...but we could have avoided all this...to those here tonight and those who are not here, I hope they stay as vigilent when things seem to be swimming along...somehow hold your representatives accountable...get down here to some of the committee meetings where some of the real work gets done...I want to thank everyone who came out tonight...I am very, very proud...this is but one step, so don't let your guard down."

Brita Butler-Wall: "I also want to tell you, that the staff members in this building are also not our enemies. They are our brothers and sisters. I did not think this process was the correct process, but I do know that the people who worked so hard on the part of the district staff did their very best with what they had. They had a very tight timeline...it may just have been an impossible task...I am convinced that we can design a process that is fair...I think this is a really tough decision. We have other very tough decisions..but if it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. The district that I really want to be part of is a district with a culture of "Ask, don't tell"...that we bring the problems to you in the community, show you what we see...I am still supportive of closing schools...as well as many other tough decisions. But I also think that with your help we can figure out collaborative processes that are fair and inclusive and transparent."

Irene Stewart: "There may very well be some solutions that come out of this, hopefully from the community, to close schools perhaps, perhaps some other things...one of the solutions I continue to maintain is figuring out what kind of program placement will attract more students to that school...planning to figure out what kind of program might go into an underenrolled building is something this district should be supporting...have a Board with a majority here that says yes we support school closures. But there is also a majority here that says, not in this particular form. We'll get it right next time, even if we have to do it one by one."

Watch & Listen For Yourselves

The video from last night's School Board meeting was posted uncharacteristically quickly. If you missed last night's meeting, and want to see how exactly the Phase II closure proposal was voted down, go to time point 3:29 in the recording.

Today from 1 to 2 pm, KUOW's The Conversation focused on the School Board meeting and the decision to drop the Phase II closure proposal. Go to The Conversation's home page and then click on the audio link that works best for you (MP3 or Real Audio).

I haven't watched or listened to either yet, but would love to hear comments from those who have.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Phase II Recommendations Dismissed by Board

The School Board voted tonight to reject Raj's Phase II recommendations.

Late in the meeting (around 11 pm), apparently Irene Stewart introduced a motion to reject Raj's recommendations tonight since she knew there were not enough votes to pass them, and they didn't want to "do this" for two more weeks.

Cheryl Chow and Michael DeBell voted against the motion. All other Board members supported it.

Bottom line, AS#1, Pathfinder, Cooper, and Roxhill all stay put.

See the PI article, "Second phase of school closings halted" for more details.

Press Coverage on Raj's Final Recommendations

Here's a round-up of articles today on school closure and Raj's final recommendations:

Manhas removes a school from the closure list - Seattle Times

Manhas saves Roxhill Elementary - Seattle PI

Another school misfire - West Seattle Herald

It’s getting ugly - West Seattle blog

Raj's Final Recommendations for Phase II

Roxhill is not going to be closed. The rest of Raj's recommendation as listed in the Board Meeting Agenda remains the same.

The relevant text from the Board meeting agenda follows:

RECOMMENDED MOTION
The recommended motion is: "I move that the School Board take the following action related to school closure and consolidation:

1. Close the Genesee Hill building and expand the alternative K-8 West Seattle program by joining the Pathfinder and Cooper communities in the Cooper building.

2. Close the Pinehurst building and co-locate the AS #1 and Summit programs in the Jane Addams building.

3. Expand the Broadview-Thomson program from a K-5 to a K-8 and merge the Viewlands program, including the autism inclusion program, into Broadview-Thomson.

I further move that the School Board endorse the Superintendent’s recommendation that:

1. Affected students will receive notification of their assignment for 2007-08 prior to the Open Enrollment Period (January 16-February 20, 2007).

2. Families will have the opportunity to participate in open enrollment if they want their student to attend a different school.

3. When an older child in a family is reassigned to a new school for September 2007 as a result of school closure/consolidation, incoming siblings applying for that school will have "sibling priority" for admission to the older child’s newly assigned school.

**********

Read the full text of Raj's final recommendation for more details.

The New School Needs a Safe & Appropriate Building

From New School parent, Ben Wilson, comes the counter-argument to Pat Murakami's posting on BEX III opposition.

- The New School is currently in the South Shore building, which is being held up by braces, leaks whenever it rains, and has a heating/ventilation system that constantly fails. The district facilities people say they cannot keep the building safe/habitable for much longer.

- The building's construction quality is so low and its architecture is so distant from current educational standards that renovating it is not considered an option. Scenarios for renovation were prepared by architects, but they result in a school facility that is not desirable.

- The community in Rainier Beach is anxious to have a K-8 option. This comes up at all neighborhood meetings about schools in that region. The building as designed could hold either a K-8 or a middle school in the future.

- The New School is not an alternative school. It is a neighborhood school. The majority of students come from a one-mile radius of the school. Community events are co-sponsored and hosted by the school, and parents are active Rainier Beach community leaders. The student population is 47% black, 15% white, 29% Asian, 9% Latino - wonderful diversity.

- There are no empty buildings in SE Seattle at this time. Rainier View is scheduled to be empty after this year, but that building is also crumbling and would therefore require a capital investment similar to that planned for the South Shore site in order to be useable. That building is also too small even for the PK-5 program, and certainly could not be a PK-8.

- The New School is achieving outcomes for its students that are comparable to schools in central (McGilvra, Montlake, TOPS) and the north-end of the city that have much lower rates of poverty and english-language learners. For example, 96-97% of first and second graders are reading at grade level.

Shouldn't we invest to preserve a great educational option in SE Seattle?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Board Officer Elections

At the first Board meeting in December, the School Board will be electing new officers. This follows current Board policy on Election of Officers. Brita Butler-Wall has told fellow Board members that she does not wish to continue as Board president. Rumor has it that current Vice President, Cheryl Chow, wants to be President, and that Darlene Flynn wants to be Vice President.

In December, the board committees will also be changing. The new Board President will appoint the committees and committee chairs, in consultation with the rest of the board.

I'm not sure what this change will mean for the School Board in a time of turmoil, but I'm personally very concerned about the idea of having Cheryl Chow, the Board member who is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being the least reponsive to community members, as the new Board President.

BEX III Opposition

I received the following e-mails today from Pat Murakami, a SE Seattle parent and activist.

On Wednesday, October 18th, the Seattle School Board will vote on BEX III - the upcoming capital funding levy. The Board is planning to approve an option which includes $64.7 million for a new school building for The New School.

We just went through the very painful process of closing SE Seattle schools in Round One of the school closure process. There are empty buildings The New School can use, or their existing building could be remodeled. Additionally, there are many schools with pressing needs throughout the District that would be a better use of capital funds.

If you feel the District should not spend money building a new building while other buildings in SE Seattle go empty, please email them immediately. As a member of the closure committee I know the District has other workable options that won't be such a waste of our tax dollars. In my email I promised to work to oppose passage of any levy that included funds for a new building. Notifying the district that you won't vote for the BEX III levy should get their attention.

Thank you.

Pat Murakami
Seattle Public School Parent

**********

Someone brought up legitimate concerns about not having a K-8 program if the New School is not given a new building.

Frankly the District should add 6-8 wings at every elementary in SE Seattle and do away with the separate middle schools. That is what parents have been asking for. It would be a far more effective use of the funds slated for the New School building. Right now the District looses over 1,000 children as they enter middle school. The New School would serve only a handful of children but those funds could add 6-8 wings to 3 elementary schools in SE Seattle.

The District can add a 6-8 wing at Emerson (which is where the closure committee recommended placing the program – it is a newly remodeled, gorgeous building), put the middle school program at Rainier Beach (which is currently under-enrolled and formerly housed a 6-12 program) or have a program specifically for New School at Aki Kurose (co-housed with their current program).

Yet another option is to remodel the Columbia building (where Orca is right now) and turn it into a Pre to 8 campus. New townhouses are going up all around that site and Rainier Vista (which still hasn't been built out completely, nor have all available units been rented) has no school anywhere nearby.

I don't know if you've been to New School but the proposed site is literally across a field from Dunlap Elementary. The District is spending a fortune busing children all over the place. Schools should be strategically located to serve neighborhoods, not built on top of each other.

I'm happy to answer any other questions.

Pat Murakami

Teachers' Union Pulls Support for School Closures

From SEA comes the following:

Below is a resolution adopted by the Seattle Education Association (SEA) Board of Directors in opposition to the current school closure plan. This resolution will be voted on by the SEA Representative Assembly on Oct. 23 at West Seattle High School. The meeting begins at 4:15.

ADOPTED BY THE SEA BOARD OF DIRECTORS OCT. 9, 2006

Whereas students of color and low income are disproportionately impacted by the Seattle School District's plans for school closures and consolidation, and

Whereas the $4 million savings from these closures is less than 1% of the operating budget, and

Whereas the Seattle School District has in excess of $20 million in reserves, and

Whereas the opposition to school closures by teachers, parents and other citizens has been overwhelming at school board meetings for the past 4-6 months, and

Whereas the closure plan relies on the use of portables to solve the anticipated student overflow caused by consolidations, and

Whereas disenfranchised citizens, whose schools are targeted for closure, have threatened to organize opposition to the February levy, and

Whereas the double failure of the Maintenance and Operations levy will result in reduced workforce, increased class size and up to 25% reduction in teacher salaries, and

Whereas closure decrees have provoked the filing of lawsuits against the District, the defense of which redirects education dollars for non-education purposes, and

Whereas the mayor envisions a doubling of the city population which will necessitate additional schools or portables, and

Whereas closed schools may be used for efforts to privatize education, and

Whereas the SEA position in "Where We Stand on Closures" is that, "If, in the final analysis, the consolidation of school would create more harm than good, SEA would oppose the final decision to consolidate schools",

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Seattle Education Association Board of Directors withdraw its support from the Seattle School District's phase 1 and phase 2 plans for school closures and consolidations.

And from the Seattle PI article Teachers to vote on pulling backing for school-closure plan, comes the following quote:

Chad Pharis, a Graham Hill Elementary teacher and SEA board member, voted to withdraw support for the current closure plans even though he agrees some schools ultimately need to be closed. He hopes the union will send a message to the district that the current process is hopelessly flawed. "A lot of us are saying this is doing more harm (than good), this is dividing the district," he said. "There has to be a better way to do this."

Somebody Else’s School

Johnny Calcagno here, parent of a third grader at TOPS, and since Raj’s Reshaping Plan in 2005, a junkie of School District politics, unfortunately. Thanks to Beth for sharing her Blogger toy.

Over the last year and half I have been struck by how seemingly easy it is for many otherwise well-intentioned people to attempt to alter, close, consolidate, and otherwise mess with the schools of other people’s children. The reasons given are varied: “We need to close the budget gap” or “Their test scores are too low” or “We haven’t closed schools in a long time, so unfortunately, we have to do so now” or “That school can move to that other building, they’ll be fine.”

Not surprisingly, the parents of children affected by proposed changes are not very happy. Parents are angry and protective lions, as well they should be. Who wouldn’t stick up for their kids, in the face of disruption and forced change? Does anyone really think that parents want to hear (or have their children hear) that their chosen school is a failure, or that their school must be sacrificed for the greater good?

I’m a little surprised by the lack of solidarity and empathy among the families of non-affected schools, but even more stunned by the lack of leadership among public officials.

I’m forgiving of the non-affected families for not speaking out and organizing. Few of us have time for that. I do wish that I saw more empathy for the tremendous disruption that this process causes in the affected communities, from time spent making signs and writing speeches, to finding time for meetings, to navigating the difficult choices about which new school to attend, to the painful goodbyes and transitions that the parents and kids must endure.

I’m even forgiving of the School Board, who are, as has been pointed out on this blog, ill-paid volunteers that can’t be expected to take a truly professional and analytical approach. Sure, they did ask for the job, but what a truly difficult and ugly job it is right now.

But where-oh-where is the city, state and national political leadership right now? Can we really be seriously talking about tens of billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure, hundreds of billions in war and military costs, and historically low upper income tax rates, while at the same time asking families to sacrifice their time and emotional energy trying to save their school? For crying out loud, we don’t need to close schools right now, we need to pour resources in as if our lives depended on it.

Yes, the Seattle School District could be more efficient. But the same can be said about almost any private and public enterprise. With schools, though, we are talking about our children, our future, our families. There should not be a higher priority, and if we have to err on one side or the other, let’s let a little inefficiency slide, while at the same time doing everything possible to help struggling schools and families get better. I’m sorry, you don’t help families by playing musical schools.

To those of you who say we must close or consolidate some schools right now (despite the fact we don’t actually have a declining enrollment), I ask you to describe a fair, intelligent, and truly empathetic process to make that happen.

I don’t believe in forced closures, but if I had a gun to my head, I would start with the targeted families and the schools and ask *them* how they would want to proceed, and ask *them* what they need – financially, academically, and emotionally – to best make that transition. I’m not talking lip service, but a specific process that would give affected families something in exchange for the disruption. It’s only fair, and something we would all want for our own families.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Public Hearing Transcripts posted

The public hearing transcripts for the Phase II closure and consolidation recommendations have been posted on the school district's Investing in Educational Excellence web page. Coverage of the three hearings was non-existent in local papers, so this gives you a chance to see what the affected communities were saying about Raj's preliminary proposal.

Protest Scheduled for Wednesday

I've gotten three notices about demonstrations and protests for Wednesday which I'm publishing below.

*********
On Wednesday October 18, the SPS district administration will present its phase II school closure proposal. Several groups will be converging on the Stanford building to voice opposition to the closure plan. The Superintendent's plans to close and consolidate schools are ill conceived, destructive, racist, and illegitimate! The process must be stopped in its tracks and reconsidered until proposals can be rendered that are transparent, equitable, beneficial to student learning and supportive rather than destructive of school communities. These ill conceived plans are already destabilizing school communities and distracting families and teachers from their important work. It is not enough for communities to work to save their particular schools, every community that has found itself on the closure list has tried the same tactics, they lobby and negotiate, plead and sometimes demonstrate.

Some have had success but only at the expense of some other school, others have not been heard. We must advocate for all schools and demand equity.

Washington State has three times rejected charter schools, yet there are indications that the current destabilization and closure of public schools may be in preparation for what the district refers to as "public/private partnerships" which are in-effect charter schools. The process of planning for the Seattle Public School district has not been transparent, is unduly influenced by business interests and has still not involved authentic community engagement. While the district plans closures, they are proposing to spend $40,000.00 on a study of the top 110 administrative positions in order to increase their wages. The last time that happened, it was followed by staff layoffs and cutbacks of custodian shifts.

I think it is time to raise all of our concerns for public education in Seattle at the same time and demand accountability of the board of directors now! They are evaluating the Superintendent and choosing a new board president. Cheryl Chow is lobbying for president and Darlene Flynn is lobbying for vice president. These board members promised us change in a district with some great schools and staff, but with a failed administration. We must demand equity, transparency, democracy in our public school district! All of us and for every issue that we advocate for - all of the issues are dependent on an atmosphere of competency and public trust.

Join in to create a critical mass to demand change. There will be a group there that are circulating a petition to recall the board members who voted for closures-the same directors who support the superintendent and allow institutionalized racism to continue unchecked in the district. Join us at 4pm, bring lunch, bring signs and voices. Stop School Closures!

Maggie Metcalfe

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

Dear Friends and Concerned Supporters of Seattle Public Schools:

Below is an announcement for a demonstration -- A Day Of Solidarity -- to show opposition to the district's closure and consolidation plan and its continued lack of a comprehensive, transparent, and effective strategy to deliver on the plan's promise to improve the quality of all of our children's education while better managing our resources. All on this list most certainly still stand to be affected by the district's ill-conceived, backwards plan. Be assured, this plan does not stop at Phase II: there will be at least two more phases. School communities which feel that they have successfully negotiated their way off a list will find themselves battling again, only this time, with closures and forced consolidations already in full swing, tactics which previously worked will be useless.

Schools with active communities, strong programs, clarified statistics (compared to district information) and better solutions (than the district's recommendations) have fought flawlessly only to see the district close the doors on their buidings and programs. None of us are immune.

We need to come together as an entire community of district patrons and supporters and demand an end to this unsuccessful, devisive plan. Only then can we help to map a new direction, one that addresses systemic changes first, before considering the need and scope of closures, one which can truly make better use of our resources, enagage school communities in real and genuine discussions to find acceptable solutions to capacity and building condition concerns, a direction which actually promises -- genuinely and transparently -- to deliver a better education for all of our students.

It is no longer acceptable to go along with the wrong plan simply because "something must be done." It is never the right time to do the wrong thing. At one point or another, every single person on this list has rallied against this very plan. Some have seen no reprive, while others have lived to last another school year. It's time to stand together one more time to demand a better deal for all Seattle Public School students and communities.

Please turn out en masse on Wednesday, October 18, starting at four o'clock p.m. to stand in solidarity with those communities which are already suffering what we've all testified to be our own worse outcome. We ask nothing more than you have once asked of us.

With respect and sincerity,
Dan Landers

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

Seattle School Closures Protest

IT IS NOT TOO LATE TO STOP CLOSURES & CONSOLIDATIONS!

Show up in solidarity!

Who : EVERYONE who cares about Seattle school children.
What : A public showing of solidarity against the Phase I and Phase II Closures and Consolidations and protest at the Board Meeting.
When : This Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 – Board meeting begins at 6pm. Show up early 4:30.

There will be a protest after public testimony and break. Protest begins roughly at 7:45.

Where : Stanford Center
2445 Third Avenue S (at Lander)
Seattle, WA 98124-1165
How : Organizers will indicate the start time.

Protest WILL BE PEACEFUL.

Bring signs, shirts, and sustenance.

YOUR attendance is crucial – mass numbers are critical – gather any friends and family that you can!

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

I have mixed feelings about the demonstration and protest because, while I believe some school closures make sense from a financial and management perspective, the process has been horrible. I want to protest lack of district vision. I want to protest inept leadership and a dysfunctional school district culture. I want to protest truly awful communication and community involvement efforts. And I do believe the Phase II recommendations should be dropped, both because the process was closed with an unrealistically short timeline, and because the specific recommendations don't make any sense. All three recommendations in Phase II would require students being housed in portables and the abdication of the goal of smaller class sizes for K-2, as stated in the CACIEE recommendations.

But I'm concerned that if we erase all the Phase I closures the district will be in a worse place, both financially and in terms of public and political opinion of district management, than if we let the Phase I closures move forward.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hiring a New Superintendent

The last time Seattle tried to hire a superintendent, the process, and the result, was awful. But, as most people know, hiring a strong superintendent for a large urban school district is a very difficult thing to do.

Take a look at back at what happened in Seattle:

Schools urged to call off search, start over - Seattle PI

Education: The School Board Flunks Google 101 - Seattle Weekly

Interim schools chief named superintendent - Seattle Times

Seattle has a new superintendent - Shark blog

And read about what happened in Los Angeles on Friday: All Eyes Are on Schools Chief as He Takes Stage

And finally, read these two very interesting articles:

Turnover at the Top, from the American School Board Journal

"An Impossible Job? The View From the Urban Superintendent's Chair," from Seattle's Center on Reinventing Public Education at UW

I still believe Seattle needs a new superintendent. But I also believe we need to be realistic about the challenges we face if we head down that road.

Friday, October 13, 2006

How to Improve the Seattle School Board

Last spring, Trish Millines Dziko (CACIEE co-chair) wrote an editorial praising Raj and blaming the School Board for not following through on the work of the CACIEE: Seattle schools in crisis.

Yesterday, Joni Balter wrote a very negative assessment of the Seattle School Board, Wanted: a functioning school board, which raises the possibility of some school board members being political appointees.

And several people, including Roy Smith in a comment on this blog this week, have said they won't re-elect Board Members unless they vote against renewing Raj's contract. That comment raises the question of why anyone would want to be a School Board member. And do the current Board members want to be re-elected?

We all agree the Seattle School District is not functioning the way it should be. I tend to put most of the blame on Raj, the district staff, and the dysfunctional organizational culture there. I know that the School Board is also responsible, but I admit to being confused about what changes I think should happen to improve it.

Do we need to change who is on the School Board? Or how the School Board functions? Will changing the School Board make a difference in how the district functions? Is getting rid of Raj and hiring a good superintendent the most important thing for Board members to do right now?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Raj Still Doesn't Get It

From today's Seattle Times article, Seattle alternative schools say their character is at stake, comes another quote that shows that Raj still doesn't understand what alternative schools are. He continues to confuse alternative structures, like K-8, with alternative teaching philosophies.

Manhas said concerns about combining schools are shortsighted. "We're not walking away from alternative schools, and actually we're expanding K-8s," he said, pointing out district plans to add middle-school grades to Orca Elementary and expand two neighborhood schools — Broadview-Thomson and The New School — into K-8s. "I think the demand for alternative K-8s either is constant or has gone down."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What are the Priorities? How were the Selections Made?

Tonight, the district got 2 full hours of public testimony on BEX III. I only stayed for the first hour, but it was interesting. I think Ingraham High School had at least seven speakers. Denny, Sealth and Nathan Hale were all represented, along with Sherry Carr (PTSA), Peter Maier (Schools First) and the usual public hearing crowd (Chris Jackins, Don Alexander, Eric Montgomery, etc.).

Since I don't know much about BEX III, I used my few minutes to raise some questions:

  • What are the priorities that got these projects on the list? According to district documents, the choices were based on the facilities master plan, but they don't seem to match to me.

  • Why is the BEX III proposal not discussed in terms of how well it does (or doesn't) fit with other district efforts (school consolidation and closure, restricting choice and transportation, changes in the weighted student formula)?

  • Are the cost estimates for these new buildings accurate?

  • What is happening with all the BTA II money that has not yet been spent?

  • What oversight will be put in place to make sure that if BEX III bond passes, the money will be spent on what was proposed and will be well-spent, not wasted?

In my testimony, I mentioned that I didn't understand how the New School, an educational program that has been trying to solve its facilities problem for less than 5 years, was getting a new building when Pathfinder, a program that has been trying to solve its facilities problem for 15 years is not considered.

I prefaced that statement with my deep admiration and respect for the New School. I think it is a wonderful school and Seattle needs more, not fewer schools, that serve children as well as the New School does.

Some New School parents, however, heard my testimony as me pitting Pathfinder against New School in a competition for facilities. That was not my intention. I think both programs deserve decent school buildings that are large enough to house their excellent educational programs.

But whether it was the New School or Roxhill or Sacajewea or Broadview-Thompson or any other K-5 or K-8 school in Seattle getting a brand-new building, I would ask the same question:

- How was it decided that X school gets a new building as part of this BEX III bond, and schools A, B, C and D do not?

Maybe there are good reasons behind these selections, but I want to hear them. It should not be a mystery which buildings are included in this BEX III proposal and which ones are not.

BEX III Hearing Today

The BEX III hearing is from 6-6:30 pm at the Stanford Center today. Many people, including me, are very troubled by the fact that the BEX III bond decisions are disconnected from other things going on in the district, like closure and consolidation, and the upcoming restrictions on choice and transportation.

And personally, when a district staffer tells me there is "no time and no will" to make changes to the BEX III proposal, it makes me mad enough to want to do something about it.

In a comment on a recent post, Melissa W. wrote, "Pathfinder, not New School, should get the BEX III money for a rebuild. There is nothing in the written agreement between the district and New School that they receive a new building. Nor is there an oral agreement...I think Pathfinder being the only K-8 AND Alternative in SW Seattle rates it receiving a new building."

In a comment on an older post, Charlie Mas wrote, "There is no element in the BEX III levy that addresses the need for elementary capacity in Capitol Hill / Eastlake...There is no element in the BEX III levy that addresses the need for middle school capacity in northeast Seattle...There is no element in the BEX III levy that addresses the need for middle school capacity in southeast Seattle...There is no element in the BEX III levy that addresses the APP reconfiguration...There is no element in the BEX III levy that provides for renovating Whitworth for use as a K-8 for ORCA...." and the list continues.

Not sure what you think about all this? Read two previous posts on this blog, BEX III and BEX III Levy, to get up to speed on some of the issues at stake. Then , come to the Stanford Center today and share your opinions as public testimony.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cooper/Pathfinder Merge Rejected by All Speakers

Tonight the Cooper and Pathfinder parents presented a united and consistent message throughout this evening's hearing in opposition to the proposed merger. The testimony was at times moving, at times hilarious, and always powerful in explaining why a merger of a traditional program and an alternative program does not make sense.

I was extremely proud to be among that group of parents, teachers, students and other community members tonight. We stood together against Raj and his current proposal, and I believe our voices were heard, at least by School Board members.

Below is my testimony from tonight:

I am completely opposed to the current recommendation to merge Pathfinder and Cooper and create a new school, because it would destroy two quality programs, one traditional and one alternative, in an attempt to solve district facilities and financial problems.

The district faces real challenges right now. I am not trying to deny or diminish the importance of them. But how we solve problems depends upon how we frame them, and what expertise and focus we bring.

What Raj and district staff have done, based on the expertise and focus they bring to the table, is look at this as a financial problem for the district to which they have proposed a solution that only makes sense from a financial perspective. This proposal shows no understanding of the educational philosophies involved, the negative impact this type of merger would have on academic outcomes for the children involved, or the work that is involved in creating a new alternative school and defining its educational approach.

The bottom line is, when the dust settles, any recommendation for closure or consolidation must improve or maintain academic outcomes for all the children involved. The Pathfinder/Cooper merger idea fails this test miserably.

When I have mentioned the idea of a merger of an alternative and a traditional school to people in the education field, they have laughed at the absurdity of it. I have spent hours since last Thursday, when we finally received Raj’s “clarifying” letter, looking for examples of a traditional school and alternative school merger anywhere at any time. The only mention I found of this idea was in Seattle, on my blog, on the district website and in local papers. I found one mention of co-location of alternative and traditional schools in Eugene, along with an analysis of the problems there. But I did not find other examples of any school district even considering a merger of a traditional school and an alternative school.

Why? Because it doesn’t make any educational sense. Someone approaching this problem with educational expertise and focus would never suggest this solution. An alternative school, by definition, provides alternative methods of education for children who do not thrive in traditional schools. The parents and staff are there by choice because they agree with a specific alternative education philosophy, as defined by the school. Alternative schools have different ways of teaching and assessing students because some students need this different approach to succeed.

Let me repeat…this proposal for a Cooper/Pathfinder merger just doesn’t make sense. A friend of mine at work asked me to explain again why the district would destroy a successful alternative program in order to create a new one. Since I have no answer, I will ask you the same question. Why would the district destroy a successful alternative program in order to create a new one?

Pathfinder parents will work with the district to explore possible solutions to our facilities problem, but leave our academic program alone!

Pathfinder has an amazing and highly successful alternative education program. I ask that this ludicrous academic solution to what is simply a facilities problem be removed from the Superintendent's final recommendation.

Latest Seattle School Board Meeting Video Now Available

The October 4th School Board meeting video has now been posted at:

Seattle Public Schools Board Meeting

I missed the meeting, but have heard from several people that you had to "see it to believe it."

Working Together to Fight Phase II Proposal

I am very happy that people are using this blog as a place to "meet" and discuss issues. That is why I created it. And I recognize that open and honest discussion about difficult issues will sometimes lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings.

But, please remember, we are supposed to be "Joining together across Seattle to fight for high quality public schools that educate all students to be come passionate, lifelong learners, respecting themselves and others." As my mom used to say, let's keep our eye on the prize.

We need to work together to fight the superintendent's Phase II proposal. And then, once we are successful, work together to demand a new superintendent.

Our power is in our numbers. In unity is strength.

Monday, October 09, 2006

This Week's Events

Tonight (Monday) is the school closure hearing at Roxhill Elementary, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm. Sign up to speak about the Roxhill closure recommendation at the door (even though the Seattle Schools website says you need to call ahead of time to sign up) or just go and listen so you can truly understand what it means to a school to be on the closure list. West Seattle residents particularly should go and show their support for this vibrant neighborhood school.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the school closure hearing at the Genessee Hill building, 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm, for both Cooper Elementary and Pathfinder K-8. Despite repeated requests, the Cooper school community was not given its own closure hearing. The two school communities will share this one site hearing. This has been poorly publicized, so please spread the word. The current merger recommendation would destroy two successful academic programs in an attempt to create a yet-to-be-determined new one, somehow synthesizing a traditional and an alternative approach to education. If you think this is as ridiculous as I do, come and show your support.

Wednesday is public hearing on BEX III at the Stanford center. It is from 6:00 pm to 6:30 pm. How does the district have a public hearing that lasts only 30 minutes? And if this is a public hearing, how do people sign up to provide public testimony?

And finally, Thursday is the regularly scheduled Finance Committee meeting from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm at the Stanford center. Since money seems to be driving most, if not all, of the district decisions right now, this could be an important meeting to attend.

For all of these meetings and hearings, please send me any notes or reactions you would like to see posted on this blog.

Seattle Needs a Superintendent Who Knows Schools

In September 2005, David Marshak, Professor of Education at Seattle University, wrote the following in a Seattle Times article:

"This new school year will be the seventh year that the district will be led by someone who was not qualified for the job."

We are now in the 8th consecutive year, and we are all paying the price. Marshak writes:

"Unlike Olchefske, Manhas is evidently a people person. But exactly like Olchefske, he had no prior experience with schools and no particular understanding of or expertise in the issues of urban schooling."

In reference to Raj's original school closure plan, he writes:

"Manhas' solution to his budget woes was to close schools. Yet, the school-closing plan he constructed had no connection to academic achievement and no coherent rationale for its choices. Academically it was clueless. Politically it was such a disaster that even the mayor felt the need to attack it."


The same thing could be said of his current Phase II closure proposal. And finally:

"...the tragedy of Stanford's untimely death has now been compounded by repeated errors in judgment by School Board members who have put men into the superintendent's job who were neither experienced educators nor capable political leaders."

We deserve better. Better schools. A better plan. Better leadership.

See Isn't it time Seattle had superintendent who knows schools? to read the full article by David Marshak.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Restoring Faith in Seattle Public Schools

I met with Carla Santorno on Friday, and said the purpose of my meeting was to have my faith restored in Seattle Public Schools.

During a 30-minute meeting, she did a pretty good job of it.

From watching Carla speak at public meetings, I already knew she was smart and talented. What I learned on Friday is that she is a genuine, down-to-earth person, with a clear understanding of many of the issues and challenges Seattle Public Schools faces, a vision for where she wants to take the district academically, and some good ideas about how to start down that path.

I also learned that she strongly supports alternative education and recognizes the importance of a network of quality alternative schools in Seattle. That puts her in alignment with the Board position on this issue and is, obviously, particularly important to me given the current proposal for the Pathfinder/Cooper merge.

I have high expectations for Carla, which means I will likely be disappointed and frustrated at times. But, I am very pleased that Carla is the CAO for Seattle Schools. It provides me with hope that a better public school system is possible in Seattle in the future.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Enrollment, First Choice & Alternative Schools

In a comment on a previous post, Roy Smith wrote:

Since school district policy prohibits (with good reason) involuntary assignment to alternative schools, I would submit that only one criteria is particularly useful or should really matter in assessing whether an alternative school remains open: does it continue to attract enrollment?

I like the idea, and suggest that first choice numbers, as a measure of what parents think of a school, can be added to enrollment to help complete the picture. Many factors, like being mentioned for possible closure, can affect enrollment and first choice numbers and make this data problematic in some ways. But I think the results are interesting.

From the numbers the CAC looked at for first choice requests for elementary and alternative schools, I calculated the following data showing the percentage change in kindergarten first choice requests in 2006 as compared to 2001. (I opted not to include the 6th grade first choice requests here because I'm not sure whether the 5th graders who choose to stay in the same school for 6th grade are counted in this data or not.)

- Orca, Kindergarten: +81%

- Salmon Bay, Kindergarten: +26%

- Pathfinder, Kindergarten: +3%

- TOPS, Kindergarten: +1%

- Summit, Kindergarten: +0%

- AE#2, Kindergarten: -28%

- AS#1, Kindergarten: -46%

- AAA, Kindergarten: -79%


Then I looked at the percentage change in overall enrollment during almost that same period, 2001 to 2005. (If anyone gets the new 2006 enrollment numbers, I'd love to see them.)

- Pathfinder +12%

- AS#1 +10%

- AE#2 +9%

- Summit +8%

- Orca +4%

- Salmon Bay +1%

- TOPS -6%

- AAA -14%


And finally, I looked at the how full the schools were in 2005, using enrollment and planning capacity numbers. I am skeptical about these numbers because I don't agree with how the district counts excess capacity in general. For example, how can Pathfinder, a school with the entire middle school in portables, be counted as having excess capacity? But, although faulty, I believe these capacity numbers can help complete the picture of how popular alternative schools are around the district.

TOPS - 101%

AS#1 - 97%

AE#2 - 86%

Orca - 85%

Salmon Bay - 84%

Summit - 81%

Pathfinder - 78%

AAA - 68%

What does all this mean? I'm not sure. I'd love to have people from each of the schools tell some of the stories behind the numbers.

For example, Orca's 1st choice numbers went way up starting, I believe, when Ben Ostrom came on as principal. But overall enrollment didn't change much. Why? Likewise, at Salmon Bay you see a large increase in Kindergarten first choice requests, but not a corresponding large increase in overall enrollment. My guess is that the planning capacities are incorrect, making it look like Orca and Salmon Bay have excess capacity when they don't. Anyone from Orca or Salmon Bay want to confirm or correct this idea?

Someone from AS#1 and from AE#2, can you tell us why with a large decrease in first choice requests, the total enrollment of your schools is increasing?

And I'd welcome the analysis of anyone on what, if anything, all this data means.

Report on AS#1 Site Hearing

Report from Roy Smith on AS#1's site hearing on Thursday:

No newspaper reporters showed up at the AS#1 site hearing, in spite of lobbying on our part to get them to be there. KOMO 4 was there and did present a short piece on the 11 o'clock news Thursday.

The hearing itself went extremely well. We made a conscious effort to model the values that we as a school teach to our children, and to not let the hearing be a mindless display of anger and frustration. In kidmail that was sent out to all families prior to the meeting, the following was written: "THE SPIRIT OF THE MEETING, THE SPIRIT OF AS#1: AS#1 teaches by modeling, and in the meeting we will model respectful interaction. The intention of this meeting is to humanize AS#1 for the Board Members (we are not just square footage and dollars), and to humanize the Board Members to us (they are not unfeeling rubber stampers).

We will show the Board Members what our NORMS are for our students and our parents:
1) Stay Engaged
2) Speak Your Truth
3) Experience Discomfort
4) Expect and Accept Non-Closure
5) Listen for Understanding

The superintendent and all seven board members were present (although one had to leave early for another commitment). Also present were the Chief Academic Officer, Associate Academic Officer, Chief Operating Officer, and the district's Communications Director.

Prior to the hearing, we put a large amount of effort into developing about a 40-45 minute coordinated presentation. We still had to follow the three minute testimony rule, so we broke our presentation down into 3 or 6 minute pieces, and for the 6 minute pieces, signed up two speakers, one of which yielded their time to the other.

AS#1's principal spoke first. He welcomed everybody to the school, and reiterated the idea of maintaining a respectful dialogue that nonetheless spoke our truth. Some of the speakers did speak directly to our frustration with the process that has gotten us to this point. One speaker specifically pointed out that there were aspects of the process that seemed to be legally questionable. Collectively we put a good deal of effort into presenting a coherent, reasoned case that this specific co-location proposal was an idea that would ultimately either have to be undone or would lead to the closure or failure of one or both of the schools involved. Throughout, we maintained a cordial atmosphere. Several speakers did in fact run over their alloted time, but because we had established a non-hostile environment, they were allowed to finish their testimony gracefully (one actually ran significantly over time), rather than being shouted down as has been known to happen at the school board meetings.

Summit speakers only used about half an hour, so a number of additional individuals had the opportunity to speak on behalf of AS#1.

Afterwards, members of our community heard from at least 5 (Sally, Mary, Cheryl, Michael, and Brita) of the 7 board members, and the general things they shared were that: 1) they truly appreciated receiving a kind welcome; 2) they were impressed by the commitment we have to our school; 3) our presentation definitely had an impact. The important thing about this (from my point of view) is that I am not sure our articulate and well-reasoned presentation would have had as much (if any) of an impact if it had been presented in a tone of anger, frustration, and blame.

After the bulk of the AS#1 presentation, an individual (Eric - don't recall last name) who has spoken at a number of school board meetings, including one I attended, spoke. He spoke to how impressed he was by the manner in which the AS#1 community conducted itself, and he talked about how this was the calmest testimony that he has given for quite some time. He acknowledged that he has spoken from a place of frustration and anger on a number of occasions and seemed genuinely impressed that perhaps the way we had chosen to get our point across could possibly be at least as effective.

Did it work? Well, we will know for sure about that point in the course of the next 3 1/2 weeks. But the initial response seems very positive, and I believe that the board, and perhaps even the district staff, are willing to work constructively with us.