Thursday, November 30, 2006

Income-Based Tie-Breaker

Danny Westneat suggests an idea that I and many others have been talking about --- the income-based tie breaker for enrollment to desirable schools. Read Seeing our way to diversity. He also discusses some of the arguments in favor of the race-based tiebreaker, while his colleague presents the opposing viewpoint: There's no compelling reason to manage race in schools.

My link errors

I am sorry I am so lame at these links. I listen to what Beth tells me and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. My apologies
More from the media. First up, Danny Westneat from the Times. Pretty simple and to the point. Schools in crisis? Not really

A new editorial from the Times, this one a little less shrill and strident. However, they now say, grudgingly, that the Mayor could have handled his plan better, Mayor Rice should come in because he knows the lay of the land (no, he doesn't, he knows a lot of people and there's a difference) and that Mayor Rice should not have any time limits on his interim period.
The school district's credibility deficit.

And, an interesting op-ed piece from a former Times editor who moved to Penn. Kind of sobering.
Maybe education matters more here


The Conflicting Views at the Seattle Times

The Seattle Times today ran two opinion pieces about Seattle Public Schools.

One, by Danny Westneat, Schools in crisis? Not really, was straight-forward, reality-based, data-supported, and calm. He says that Seattle schools are doing alright and compares scores to those in other urban Washington districts. As Mr. Westneat writes: "The mayor and the former mayor and the editorial board for this newspaper ought to back off. My kid goes to a Seattle public school, and from where I sit you all are starting to do more harm than good."

The other, was a long unsupported and self-contradictory rant by the editorial board, The school district's credibility deficit. They call for both new long term leadership and for an interim Superintendent. They anguish over a nine-month lame-duck period for Mr. Manhas and prefer an eighteen-month lame duck period for Mr. Rice. They say that Mr. Rice could go right to work when Mr. Rice has demonstrated his ignorance of District issues and personnel. They are concerned that the Superintendent might be working for Board members who didn't do the hiring, but advocated for that very situation three years ago. They promote Mr. Rice as politically astute, but acknowledge the clumsy and impolitic way that his name was brought forward.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joel Connelly column in today's PI

Yet another take on the push by Mayor Nickels to run the schools. Mr. Connelly's column is a dead-on commonsense take on the issue (which I happen to agree with). My favorite line is when he asks anyone to name one specific improvement that would come from letting the city run the schools. There's also a couple of good letters to the editor in today's PI. :)

seattlepi.nwsource.com/connelly/294021_joel29.html

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

PI editorial/Times op-ed today

Another reasonable editorial from the PI today, this one about having Raj finish his contract. It is well-reasoned. My favorite line is:

"The district's financial and classroom progress argues for hiring a superintendent who wants to spend years accelerating the improvements, not rethinking everything."

I wrote just as much to the mayor last night. I think starting with a new superintendent AND having an education summit would just muddy the waters. The PI has it right to say we need acceleration and, I would add, someone supporting all that Carla Santorno is doing.

Seattle Schools: Staying on track

The Times had an op-ed by Steve Pulkkinen of the SEA. He gives the realities of school funding and points out that changing the Board is unlikely to increase state funding.

Seattle schools crisis highlights need to boost state funding

The Effects of School Closure

Read a good article in the Seattle Times today on the effect of the MLK closure on other Central area schools: Closure affects nearby schools.

"The district says it's taking the opportunity to learn from its enrollment-planning mistakes before attempting next year's challenge." I sure hope so.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The PI Perspective

As a welcome contrast to the Seattle Times articles mentioned by Melissa Westbrook in More from the Times, the Seattle PI today has an editorial presenting the opposite perspective.

Read Seattle Schools: Is there a 'crisis'? and then compare the ideas and opinions presented there with the ones in the Times' editorials.

I support the idea of Norm Rice as an interm superintendent, since I believe it will improve the chances of the levy and bond votes passing February, and will increase the chances of having a successful search for an excellent permanent superintendent. However, the writing in the Seattle Times has been so slanted and one-sided that I'm happy to see the editorial in the PI today presenting the opposing view.

More from the Times

Two editorials in today's Sunday Times about Seattle Schools. One is about the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach.
Don't miss opportunity at Rainier Beach High

The other is another over-the-top editorial about the Board and taking over Seattle Schools (by some unnamed entity):
Why Seattle must control its schools

The Rainier Beach piece is actually measured in its tone. They do miss the point; this isn't about charters or not because they are not legal in this state. It is about what the relationship between private entities that want to come in and create schools and our district. They point out how well the foundation that the Academy is based on has done. Good and well but running a program is not the same as running a school. They point out, rightly, how poorly Rainier Beach is doing but don't delve into why.

They completely miss the point that it is just plain common courtesy with any group or established school to make the effort to include everyone at the table in discussions about change.

The editorial by James Vesely (the editor or the editorial page) is, once again, too much. He complains about:
-losing another superintendent - Well, again, superintendents are just not lifers. It would be nice to have one more than 3 years but Stanford died, Olchefske was incompetent and Raj never should have been put in. Not one of these can be laid at the feet of the current Board.
-the departure of the CFO - and to that I say, so what? Should we do a survey of how many districts have lost a CFO, assistant superintendent, etc.?

He uses a lot of coded language saying that Seattle is a great city full of talent and great cities do not "have the failing systems of blighted East Coast cities." He also claims that there has been a "slow spin towards deliberate mediocrity". I have said a lot of things critical of this district and the current (and past) Board and superintendents but that people are trying to be deliberate in not doing better is just plain wrong.

He gets in his worst points with "the district and most of its board have lost the confidence of the 'pros' who run the city and region." He goes on to name the mayor, Ron Sims, editorialists, former School Board members, 'much of the professional class'. Where's the City Council? Who are these other editorialists because I try to read as many other media sources as I can and so far it's only the Times on this bandwagen of takeover. And the professional class? Is this who gets to dominate the conversation about the state of our public schools?

He refers, repeatedly, to the "establishment". He references a speech (I believe by Don Nielson) given to the Rotary which he called "one of those establishments that start with a captial E". He also says, "In sum, that nearly an unprecedented loss of confidence in an elected board". No matter how many Rotary members, former Board members or "establishment" folk he lines up, the huge number of voters who voted 3 years ago to oust the majority of the School Board is bigger. So no, Mr. Vesely, it isn't unprecedented even if true.

Then he goes on to talk about the power of neighborhoods and community groups to influence their neighborhood schools and calls them "pampered, beloved and boutique". Well, there's a good slam at places like Montlake. At least, he's an equal opportunity offender. He dislikes everyone who isn't "establishment".

He also speaks of the "coming takeover of Seattle schools". Does he know something we don't?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Governance

I hear people talking about the governance of Seattle Public Schools and saying that the District has a serious governance problem. I would agree with them. All of them say that the source of the governance problem lies in how School Board Directors become School Board Directors. This is, of course, absurd. That may strongly influence the persons in the positions and to whom they owe their alligience, but it will not impact governance one whit.

The District's governance problem is this: The Board has not been afforded the tools necessary to do their job.

I see a lot of confusion around the Board's job. Many of the people who give public testimony seem to think that the Board is the Complaint Department; they are not. Other folks seem to think that the Board writes the District's budget; they don't. The School Board is not supposed to get involved in the day-to-day administration and operations of the District. It is, after all, supposed to be a strictly part-time volunteer job.

State law gives the Board a set of jobs. These include reviewing and, as appropriate, approving all District expenditures (the warrant report), District hires (the personnel report), outside contracts, and the total dollar figures of the various funds - though not the way the money is allocated.

So far as I know, no one has any serious complaints about how the Board has fulfilled these duties. Yes, some may kvetch about Director Bass always voting "No" on the personnel report, but it always passes. And it is true that I, and others, have objected to the approval of capital projects that ALWAYS exceed their budgets. But this is not the governance crisis that people speak of.

In addition to these - and a few other - legal requirements, the Board is supposed to be a policy-making body. As such, they are supposed to determine, in broad strokes, how the District is supposed to function. They are not to concern themselves with the details of how those policies are implemented, but they do have an oversight responsibility to insure that the policies ARE implemented.

The problem is that the Board can WRITE policy but the Board cannot ENFORCE policy. Consequently, the Board cannot be said to have SET policy.

For example, let's say that the Board writes and approves a nutrition policy for schools. The Board must rely on the Superintendent to implement the policy. If the Superintendent does not implement the policy, there isn't much that the Board can do about it. First of all, there is a very real chance that the Board will never know whether the policy was implemented or not - not unless they go out to the schools and check, which is pretty unlikely. Secondly, if the Board does know that the policy hasn't been implemented, they can bring that fact to the Superintendent's attention and encourage him to follow through, but not much more.

Unless they are ready to fire him and conduct a national search for a replacement Superintendent over a failure to comply with policy, the Board doesn't have many tools for getting the Superintendent to implement their policies. They could, I suppose, write a less than favorable performance evaluation. Boo hoo. As a direct result of this grosteque hole in the governance structure, the Board is incapable of doing their primary job. Without the ability to enforce policy, they can't really set policy. If they can't set policy, they are restricted to their only other role: to sign the checks.

Of course, the Board's inability to enforce policy or effectively manage the Superintendent only matters if the Board and the Superintendent do not share a Vision for the District. Since the Board hires the Superintendent they would, of course, be sure to hire one who shares their Vision. In those cases when a Board inherits a Superintendent from a previous Board, we would expect the Superintendent to recognize the Board's authority and adopt their Vision.

The current governance crisis is a direct result of three fairly unusual circumstances: 1) a Board with a clear, strong Vision, 2) an aggressive Board that (to a greater extent than previous Boards) checks to see that their policies are followed and 3) a Superintendent who does not share the Board's Vision and feels no compulsion to follow it.

I suggest that the first two elements are not the source of the governance crisis. They are, in fact, strengths. It is the third element - and the third element alone - that has caused the so-called governance crisis. Fortunately, this "crisis" will resolve itself by August without any need to appoint an interim Superintendent (who also does not share the Board's Vision nor feels any need to follow it) and without any need to replace the Board or change the way the Board is chosen.

We can prevent future governance crises of this type in a couple ofways:

1) Develop some means, short of replacing the Superintendent, for the Board to enforce policy.

2) Switch the way that the Superintendent and the Board are chosen. Yes, appoint the Board, but elect the Superintendent. This way the person with the real authority will be accountable to the public. The Superintendent will then be charged with developing the Vision as well as implementing it and the Board will fade in importance to the administrative tasks of approving what is put before them. This is the State's model: the Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected and the state Board of Education is appointed.

Look at the CACIEE report. One of their first recommendations was for the Board to adopt a governance policy, such as the Carver model. The Carver model, however, is predicated on the Board's ability to hold the Superintendent accountable. Our School Boards lack that ability.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Finally, from Norm Rice Himself...

After weeks of hearing from everyone except Norm Rice, Melissa Westbrook (and others) got their wish --- an interview with Norm Rice in the PI in which he tells us more about his opinions about Seattle schools and why he wants to be interim superintendent.

Ex-mayor wants to run schools

The time period Norm Rice mentions for being an interim superintendent (about a year and a half) matches exactly with what I think would be beneficial --- long enough for the levy to pass, some trust to be restored in the schools, and an excellent superintendent to be hired.

I found this exchange interesting and surprising:

"[PI]What do you think about the seven school building closures that have already been approved for this fall? Is it a good idea to go forward with those?

[Rice] I can't answer that. I haven't gotten involved in that on purpose. My instinct says you ought to just shelve it. You ought to really maybe have a cooling-off period, look at some other objectives and come back to it. ... Right now, I don't even know if school closure brings the benefit that you want."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Recent News Articles on Seattle Schools

The discussion about the future of Seattle Schools continues to appear on a regular basis in the city's two local papers.

Recent articles include:

I completely agree with Hubert Locke's take on the issues in his article "Rice could lead district out of morass." It will be interesting to see what happens in the next week or so.

Giving Thanks for the Good Things in Seattle Public Schools

For Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to give thanks for some of the good things about Seattle Public Schools. My list follows. Please post what you are thankful for about Seattle Public Schools in the comments.

*******

On a personal level, I am thankful for:
  • Missa Marmelstein and Lisa DeBurle, my daughers' fabulous teachers in Pathfinder's Earth hall, teaching 2nd/3rd grade classes with an amazing mix of kindness, joy, inspiration and rigor.
  • Lou Cutler, the Pathfinder teacher who makes PE fun while helping my girls get good exercise habits, and chooses to spend his Saturday after Thanksgiving at the Seattle Kids Marathon leading a group of Pathfinder kids.
  • The PTSA leaders and other parents at Pathfinder who run a well-oiled volunteer machine with many, many adults contributing time, energy and money to support the teachers and the school.

On a more global level, I am thankful for:

  • The resignation of Raj Manhas as Superintendent.
  • The hiring of Carla Santorno as Chief Academic Officer.
  • The cancellation of Phase II of school closures and consolidations.
  • Those people (district staff, School Board members, parents, advocates, media) who continue putting their time, energy and passion into improving Seattle Public Schools despite the obstacles.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seattle Schools on "The Conversation" at 10 am Today

ADDED: Link to the archive of today's show if you want to listen to Mel, me, Andrew (via e-mail) and others speaking on this topic.

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Today on KUOW (94.9), the first hour of "The Conversation" (from 10 am to 11 am) is about Seattle Public Schools.

***********
Who should supervise Seattle schools?
With the upcoming departure of Superintendent Raj Manhas, what's needed to solve the problems facing the Seattle Public School system? Should the entire school board resign? Does Mayor Greg Nickels' need to assert some control? What role should the state play? We'll take your calls and hear your proposals.

*******
Call: (206) 543-KUOW or (800) 289-KUOW; or e-mail weekday@kuow.org to get your perspective on this issue on the air.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Updates on Seattle Weekly article on the Board

I did some research today about the Nina Shapiro article in the Weekly about the Board. I didn't read it closely enough (or misunderstood some of it) but there are a couple of things to point out. One, that it seems that Ed Murray is largely abandoning his legislation on appointments to the Board due to lack of interest from other legislators. (I have a call into his office to confirm this but it's pretty much Nina's impression from her discussions with him.) So, unless the Mayor gets some other legislator to put up the legislation, it's a non-starter. Also, Murray's comment about connecting schools' performance to "a group of people who get paid really well" had confused me. It turns out that he was referencing the city council and the mayor and not suggesting that board members get paid.

Also, on the issue of Brita's comment that likened school closures as a crisis like global warming. Brita said to me that she meant school closures are an on-going problem that is not likely to get better if nothing is done.

I also spoke to a reporter today about trying to get an interview with Norm Rice. It seems to me that the only people able to ask Mayor Rice why he wants to be superintendent and what his goals would be as superintendent would be the Mayor or a reporter. I just can't get fully on-board with him taking over from Raj Manhas unless I know what his motives are. It can't just be about crisis managment because there is no crisis. There's some turmoil, some dysfunction but no real crisis. So is it to shepherd the district during the levy/bond elections, to wind down schools that are closing and/or see the district through the permanent superintendent search? Or something else?

Suggestion Blocks...

In response to the Mayor's interest in Seattle Schools, Cheryl Chow said he should focus on potholes and the viaduct instead. Hmm... By that logic, Seattle business leaders should just focus on their products and profits. Communities should just focus on parks and recreation centers. And, parents: we should just focus on feeding and dressing our kids. After all, we elected the Board to make the school decisions for us, right? Wrong! Strong leaders welcome input, and use it as an opportunity to hone and defend their vision. If the district had the right leadership, they wouldn't be so threatened by outside opinions. Even if you don't agree with the Mayor's opinion, you should be concerned by the School Board response. If they eschew the Mayor's input, what do you think they will do with input from you or me? I hope the Board considers this before they go off to decide the fate of the district all by themselves. Listening to input doesn't mean they have to make everyone happy. But, at least they should talk about the issues instead of the ownership.

CPPS Position on Leadership Change

Today's article in the Seattle Times, "Nickels urged to take control of Seattle schools" continues the recent pressure in the media for leadership change at Seattle Public Schools.

The article includes a quote from CPPS president, Charles Rolland, supporting the idea of an appointed School Board. ""If I'm a stellar superintendent, what makes me want to come to this kind of place?" said Charles Rolland, a community activist who has twice trooped to City Hall in recent weeks to meet with Nickels, along with other activists, business people and educators."

Charles Rolland and Venus Velazquez also weighed in last week with a guest column in the PI, "Norm Rice for interim superintendent."

And below is the CPPS response to Raj's resignation posted on their website:

"Seattle’s school system is in crisis because of a failure by our district leaders to provide a comprehensive vision and corresponding strategy. The trust and confidence in our school district is at an all time low, yet the decisions we make today will have a significant impact on our kids and our city.

CPPS believes this crisis is an opportunity for us to overhaul a long-broken system and restructure a world-class public school district. To do this, we need:

  • Structural reform of the School Board to institute a system that allows for decisions to be made and implemented with consistent leadership, comprehensive vision, and clear goals. We need School Board members that are focused on their role as policymakers rather than administrators.
  • A visionary, risk taker, and goal-oriented Superintendent who can build support for a common vision with the Board and community.
  • A civil discourse on educational issues, one which is open and inclusive, and builds a broad coalition for educational excellence.
  • A short term plan to restore trust and confidence in our district in the short term to help support the levy and bond measures which are on the ballot in February."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leadership Change Needed for Seattle Public Schools

Leadership change is needed for Seattle Public Schools, and it is needed now. Whether it is the reality or just a perception (fueled by very biased media coverage in the Seattle Times and elsewhere), many Seattle residents think Seattle Public Schools are in crisis. Allowing that perception to remain unchanged over the next 10 months could be quite harmful to the health of the district.

In the Informal Poll - Hire Norm as Interim? or Keep Raj Until Next August? on this blog today, the majority of respondents felt that hiring Norm now as interim superintendent made sense. As I've talked with people over the last few weeks, I've been surprised at how many people share that opinion, both those parents deeply involved in working to improve the school system and the taxpayers/voters who don't usually pay much attention to education issues. The support for hiring Norm Rice seems to cross racial, ethnic and income lines. I have found support for the idea among some people who supported Raj and thought he did a good job as superintendent, and among some people who thought Raj's resignation was good news.

School Board members, have you done any polling of your constituents on the idea of hiring Norm Rice as interim superintendent? Are you finding the same kind of support that I am?

If the School Board takes the courageous step of buying out Raj's contract and hiring Norm Rice as interim superintendent, I believe not only will public perception of Seattle Schools improve, but public perception of and support for School Board members will also improve. If School Board members go against expectations and turn down the chance to play turf and ego games over this issue, the genuinely good and hardworking people who are on the School Board might get a chance to be successful, working in tandem with a superintendent with political and leadership skills. And a few public successes could certainly improve the re-election hopes of School Board members next November.

If instead, as Brita Butler-Wall has indicated, the School Board decides to insist that nothing is really wrong with Seattle Public Schools and it is okay to go forward with business as usual, then I believe the pressure will mount for some or all of the elected School Board positions to be replaced with appointed School Board members.

The Seattle Weekly, which has been absent from education coverage for months, has an article this week, "Board Stiffs" by Nina Shapiro, which addresses the idea of appointed School Board members. Shapiro writes, "The idea [of appointing School Board members] is being taken seriously enough that Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to issue a statement about the appointment process this week."

So, leadership change is needed for Seattle Public Schools, and it is needed now. The only question is will it be the superintendent who is replaced, or School Board members, or both?

Academic Achievement Gap Event

I found this on the Alliance for Education website.

Please join us at a forum on the Achievement Gap
Wednesday, November 29

featuring
Dr. Terry Bergeson
Superintendent of Public Instruction

Darlene Flynn
Seattle School Board Member

There is a significant and persistent Achievement Gap in Seattle and Washington State. We are going to talk about it.

· What are the root causes of the academic achievement gap between students of color and their White and Asian counterparts?

· How big is the gap?

· Is anything working and what are effective gap-closing strategies?

· Why should we care about an Achievement Gap?

Hear answers to all of these questions as well as your own!

Event Information:

Wednesday, November 29th

11:45 am – 1:30 pm


Seattle Public Library
Downtown Branch
1000 Fourth Avenue

Please RSVP to Constance Yee at (206) 205-0324 or by email

Parking information

NY Times article on math

Seattle was featured in this article about how we teach math in the United States.

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

Informal Poll - Hire Norm as Interim? or Keep Raj Until Next August?

I'd like to take an informal poll, asking everybody who reads this to click on the comment button below and leave your response to the question.

Should the Seattle School Board:

  • Hire Norm Rice as Interim Superintendent and postpone the national search for a year or so until the reputation of the Board and the district improves?

- OR -

  • Keep Raj Manhas on as Superintendent until the end of his contract next August, and launch into a national search for a new superintendent right away?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bill Gates' Op-Ed in Times

Getting our children ready for school, college and work

Some of what he writes about we have been discussing. What should high school graduation be based on? Getting into college? Being able to walk out into the world knowledgable enough to be a productive citizen? Trained for work or educated to be a citizen? Are they the same thing? Mutually exclusive?

He's off on his bit about not being able to do anything about failing schools. Under NCLB, there are penalities and they kick in pretty quickly. In fact, the whole school is damned rather than just one teacher.

I agree with finding some alternatives to teacher certification for people who would be able to demonstrate, based on experience, that they have the skill to teach. My husband is a UW professor who would like to teach high school math/physics. He certainly knows how to teach (although good luck with those high schoolers, honey) and knows how to teach math. But he's not going to go and get more training to do it.

Gates moves on to KIPP without mentioning its a charter school foundation. Bill, just call it what it is. He does grudgingly admit that charters are probably dead here but goes on to talk about "innovation districts" which is probably code for charter districts. He has the money and he seems to believe he knows education inside out so why not just start an "innovation district" for free? He could then create his district with schools according to his beliefs and we could all see if he was right.

Sorry, it's just that I have a very hard time with someone whose children will never see the inside of a public school telling all the public school parents just how awful their schools are.

Last Night's Board meeting

Entering the Board meeting last night, I was startled to see kids doing backflips in front of the dias because the Board generally doesn't get that kind of reception. Oh. It was the Dearborn Scats team doing tumbling (which kind of freaks me out because they don't have a spotter at both ends) and juggling. It was fun to watch.

The public testimony was mostly well-behaved until the end. I spoke against the capital bond measure. There was the man who loves to shout out racist remarks but he seems to have some sort of mental problem (I mean that) so he gets off the hook for that behavior. Also, Omar Tahir let loose and said something vaguely racist to Cheryl Chow (mentioned Wei Meng - not sure of spelling - which I think is some Chinese gang) and pointing out that Raj was Indian but not even Native American Indian (his words, not mine) and where were the Native Americans? He also threatened the Board (not clear what he would do but it sounded more physical than legal) over the Africian-American Museum.

Louis Martinez, the new Secondary Education Director, gave a presentation on the direction high schools are going, complete with PowerPoint. I didn't see a lot new except a program he called Pathways which he said was in place in every comprehesive high school that will cover tutoring and other out-of-class help. I'll have to research it to see what it is. He also mentioned AP a lot which was a surprise to me but he and Carla had told me that they were interested in trying to include rigor of all kinds into the high school curriculum. Brita said his was the first in a series of presentations to be made at Board meetings about how the district delivers services at schools.

I only stayed until 8:30 so I missed all the agenda items. However, before I left Brita let Darlene Flynn explain the new Board meeting changes that the ad hoc committe of Butler-Wall, DeBell and Flynn have drawn up. I was quite surprised to hear there would be no public input on it (I guess you can e-mail them which I will do) or Board vote. They are just going to implement it.

Basically it says for testimony:
-one person speaks at a time
-comments to be addressed to Board
-adhere to time limit
-focus on issues and solutions
-no racial slurs, personal insults, ridicule, threats
-signs brought to meetings subject to these ground rules

Mostly okay except that I think one reason people DO come to the meetings to speak is to speak to a group. Otherwise, they could just e-mail, phone or write. I became an activist when I went down to speak and found out that I wasn't the only parent/community member with a concern. I found that there are many other concerns (and some much bigger and more pressing than my own) throughout the district. I feel the public testimony is a time to share concerns with not just the Board but the public who attends the meetings.

On the back of the sheet with the above information was a table outlining what the Board wants to do. It was a chart with three coluumns: Challenge, Proposed Change and Performance Measures. (I'll try to find a link at the SPS website and post it.) The first Challenge is the testimony sign-up and their Proposed Change is to order the speakers as follows:
a. action items (alternate pro and con)
b. introduction items (alternate pro and con)
c. other items (first come, first serve)

They believe, over time, more speakers have opportunity to address the Board.

This is totally wrong. Why? First, if they want to allow more people the opportunity to speak they should parcel out the spots, instead of first come, first serve. Second, action items are items they are voting on THAT night. Most of the Board come in ready to vote; it is ridiculous to have people speak, knowing their input will have little impact on Board voting. It gives the Board no time to consider what is said to them. Three, this should be an open forum. I have noticed that there are some of the same faces (Chris Jackins, Don Alexander) every Board meeting. However, the majority of the spots are different speakers, most of whom I have never seen before. I think there needs to be a big voice against this part of their plan.

The rest of the chart has some good stuff. Things like issues that don't make testimony will be referred to staff for response and follow-up back to the Board. (I had suggested to Brita that the School Board staff track how many people call to be on the list and what their issues are. I think that's the tracking system they are suggesting.) They also suggest have district leadership staff on hand to respond to people during break, FAQ will be posted to the website, a complaint table staffed by customer serviced from 5:30-7:30 and what will happen if speakers don't comply.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Align High School Graduation Requirements with College Entrance Requirements

Out of yesterday's Washington Learns report, comes one recommendation that makes so much sense, it's hard to believe it hasn't been put in place already.

In the PI article yesterday, Offer students more help, state's colleges are urged, is the suggestion that "The state should align high school graduation and college entrance requirements to ease the transition to higher education." As James Sulton, executive director of the HEC Board explains, "there is no clean mesh between what students are told they need to do in order to finish high school and told what they need to do in order to get admitted to college."

In other words, students in Seattle (and elsewhere in Washington state) can finish high school with a diploma and a high grade point average and still be ineligible to apply for entrance as a freshman to a state university because they didn't take the required number of years of English, math or other required coursework.

Many kids who are 15 or 16 years old don't have a clear idea of what they want to do professionaly and whether or not they will eventually want to (or need to) attend a four-year college. We shouldn't let these kids opt out of the required coursework to be considered for college admission.

The UW, WSU, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and Evergreen State College all require:
  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of Math
  • 2 years of Science
  • 3 years of Social Studies
  • 2 years of a Foreign Language

Schools in Washington state should require the same curricula for a high school diploma. This is one recommendation that Seattle Schools can and should act on without waiting for the state to make decisions about whether or not to implement this Washington Learns recommendation.

PTSA Legislative Roundtable

I attended the Seattle Council PTSA Legislative Roundtable last night at Eckstein Middle School. It was slow to get started as the legistlators were late in coming. There were about 50 people from around the Puget Sound area. We mostly networked and talked while we waited. I get the impression that there is consensus on the idea that former Mayor Rice should step in as superintendent.

The sheet passed out listed the WSPTA 2006 legislative Assembly voting results. Out of about 21 topics, the ones that got the most votes were:

1. K-12 Education Funding
2. Math and Science
3. Simple Majority
4. Reduction of Class Size
5. School Recess

(The last one puzzled me. I know it's an issue in other parts of the country but I hadn't heard anything about it in Washington state.)

Other top ten issues; student supports, sex ofender registration, Washington state tax system, highly capable programs and tie between assessment system improvements/special ed funding.

The legislators who attended were Jamie Petersen, newly elected from the 43rd district, Helen Sommers of the 36th district, Al O'Brien from district 1 and Ruth Kagi from the 32nd district. Each legislator spoke briefly. Helen Sommers had spent the last day and a half at the Washington Learns rollout. She spoke of Governor Gregoire's passion and of the strong outlines of the program. Ruth Kagi said she was the chair of the early learning committee and was committed to the ideas in Washington Learns around that issue. Al O'Brien's focus is crime and prisons so he basically was saying that's where kids may end up if we don't have a good educational system (he also spoke a lot about sexual predators which was somewhat disturbing).

They were asked some questions. Amy Hagopian, a former School Board member, asked whether they believed school board members should be appointed and would they support the Ed Murray bill. Helen Summers said she had heard from her constiuents a lot of unhappiness with the Seattle School Board. However, she said she would be against appointing school board members. She said most boards are 5 members and thought Seattle's should be the same. (How that would make it better, I'm not sure.) Jamie Petersen said he was not prepared to take a position (he is barely a legislator). He also said at one point that he could not understand a Board member who would stand in a lawsuit against the district.

I opined that I had heard that Bill Gates had advocated innovations in education like charter schools. I told them that while I admire Mr. Gates that he was only one Washington voter and that the majority of Washington voters had voted, 3 times, against charters. (They all started nodding right away when they saw where I was going; I think they get what the voters said.) Helen Sommers said he mentioned all kinds of innovation with charters being one of them.

There was a discussion about legislators from Eastern Washington who did not want to vote to fund schools properly. But they all agreed that they felt there was an excellent chance of simple majority for levies would pass this session.

We then divided into groups according to legislator. A group of about 7 sat with Jamie Petersen. We talked about the Board, paying for Washington Learns, whether if the Viaduct became a tunnel or street option, would more people live downtown and whether that would generate a need for a school to serve children who call downtown home, the levies, the Seattle Times and their opposition to the Board. Jamie also said he felt that the tax system in our state probably needed to be looked at.

It was a thoughtful group of well-spoken people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

City Hall shouldn't run Seattle Schools

There was an op-ed piece in the Times today written by Cindy McMullen, the incoming president of the Washington State School Directors' Association about the Mayor and his increasing interjection in school district direction/politics. What she says is not surprising but her calm tone and reasoned argument are good.

City Hall shouldn't run Seattle schools

What's Wrong with Seattle Public Schools?

What's wrong with Seattle Public Schools? Mayor Greg Nickels answered that question and many others on KUOW's Weekday today. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

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Reynolds: What’s wrong with Seattle’s schools?

Nickels: I think that there’s been a real issue of accountability and confidence in the public schools. For an awful lot of parents, as their kids approach school age, their default is to move out of the city in order to send their kids to suburban schools or, if they can afford it, to send their kids to private schools. We have the highest per capita private school attendance in the country.

And I think that the Seattle Public Schools ought to be, if not the first choice, at least in contention with those, and that we keep more of those kids in our city and in our public schools. And the confidence is not there amongst a lot of people that they are going to get a good education by going to the public schools, and we need to change that perception.

Reynolds: There were rumors that you were putting up Norm Rice as the interim head of the public schools as superintendent. Is that true?

Nickels: Three years ago the school district went through a failed search for a new superintendent. They spent a lot of money and a lot of time, and at the end of the day they turned to the fellow who had inherited the job on an interim basis and said ‘Would you do this for the next three years.’ I think that nothing has really changed to think that they are going to be more successful in a national search over the next eight or nine months.

Secondly, the manner in which Raj Manhas offered his resignation, which was following a vote by the Board against his proposal on school closures, I think says that he’s going to be less effective because he doesn’t have the confidence and the support of the Board. And therefore, bringing in someone of stature and maturity, like Mayor Rice, to come in, bring the community together in a summit, which he did 16 years ago very successfully, led to a lot of good progress in the schools that we now have seen, I think, pretty much dissipate, I think that would be the right way to go.

Then in two or three years, you have that plan, the community is united, the Board is united, I think your chances of hiring the best superintendent in the country would be a lot higher.

Reynolds: The Board is united... The Seattle Times called for the Board to step down, except for two members that they thought should stay on there. What do you think of that?

Nickels: Well I have not called for the Board to resign. I have asked them to consider bringing former Mayor Rice in to restore confidence and stability, bring the community together through an education summit. If they consider that and they move forward in that direction, I will support them. If they don’t, I’ve got real concerns about the next eight or nine months’ drift because we have a lame duck superintendent who doesn’t have the Board support and, very likely at the end of it, a search that doesn’t bring forward a candidate that’s going to get a consensus approval.

Reynolds: So the Mayor, of course, doesn’t run the Seattle schools.

Nickels: No, but I’ve got a big stake in the success of the schools. All of the things we are doing in this city really depend on a fine school system to kind of bring it all together.

Reynolds: So if that drift persists, what’s your stick over the next few months?

Nickels: Well, that’s a good question, Steve. I very much hope, and I’ve called on the Board members, to consider this. I hope they will do that. I hope they will do the right thing in that regard and that we will be able to move forward as a united community.

Reynolds: It’s difficult to have a conference and bring all the stakeholders together when there is such a divisive attitude...

Nickels: There really is. Which is why I think someone of the stature of former Mayor Rice, and I can’t think of a lot of other people who could do this, to come in and bring those divided parts of the community and of the Board together, I think it’s a unique opportunity.

Reynolds: Have you heard anything from him or from the people you are talking to that that may happen?

Nickels: I’ve had many conversations. I’m not going to speculate on the success of the effort ultimately.

Reynolds: Once again…I’ll let you go on that… (laughter)…Once again, the legislature is of course supposed to fully fund education. There is going to be pressure again on the legislature. What is Seattle going to do to get the Governor and others to maybe look at some of those dollars going to fully fund education?

Nickels: Well that’s another reason why I think it’s important for Seattle to have its act together is, I think, that for a lot of legislators, they are going to look at the Seattle district and point to it and say ‘You know what? Until that happens, we’re not going to put any more money into this.’

Reynolds: It’s an excuse for them, then, in that case.

Nickels: Yeah, exactly. So that’s why I think it’s important. Plus in February, we have two very large levies for the school district up and we have to get those passed. So I think it’s very important that we focus on this leadership issue, restore public confidence, and then we can move forward with the legislature. The Governor’s been very supportive of additional funding for education, but we need to do our part.

Reynolds: It’s difficult to get those levies passed when people feel like the Board...

Nickels: It’s tough. I’ve signed on to be a co-chair of the levy campaign. It’s very important. I don’t think the voters will take this out on the kids, but it’s sure a lot easier if everybody is singing from the same page.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Washington Learns Final Report

The Washington Learns Final Report: World-Class, Learner Focused, Seamless Education was released today.

If you get a chance to read through it, please post your reactions here.

You can read the Seattle Times summary of the report at Governor's panel recommends changes to education.

If, like me, you are curious about who the people are on the Steering and Advisory Committees, go to the Washington Learns Steering Committee page. You can read information there about the Steering Committee members (Committee Members tab in the main page) and the Advisory Commitee members (Members link under each of the three Advisory Committees listed at right). You can also look at meeting agendas, read consultants' reports, and have fun digging through all the documents created by or used by these committees by clicking on any of the Materials links.

Is the School Board Incompetent?

The Seattle Times writes that the Seattle School Board, with the exception of Michael DeBell and Cheryl Chow, are incompetent and should resign immediately. You can read their Sunday editorial at this link or below. http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=boarded12&date=20061112 What do you think?

The Times says that the District is dysfunctional. If it is dysfunctional, how much of that dysfunction is attributable to the Board, how much to the Superintendent, and how much to the District's culture which predates all of them? Why does the Times put all of the blame on the Board? The Times doesn't say.

The Times says that the District has been missing a strong Board-Superintendent leadership team. The Times puts all the blame for that failure of leadership on the Board. Why? The Times doesn't say. The Times says that the majority of the Board members have failed in their public leadership because they don't act as part of a group. Is acting as part of a group a defining feature of leadership?

The Times does name one specific example of a pet project that Board members pursued instead of focusing on teaching and learning: working conditions for bus drivers. The Times doesn't think that the Board should be concerned about this at all. What do you think? Out of all of the time that the Board has been in office, how many hours do you suppose they have devoted to this concern? Has it been such a distraction that they aren't attending to other business? Is their interest in the welfare of bus drivers sufficient cause to call for the Board's resignation? If so, that might be true for Directors Stewart, Bass, and Soriano who did devote some of their time to it, but why should Directors Flynn and Butler-Wall resign? The Times doesn't say.

The Times writes that the Board is running our schools into the ground. How exactly? Which of their votes was destructive to schools? The Times doesn't say.

The fact is that the Board has very little to do with what happens in classrooms. The Board is specifically prohibited from getting involved in the District's day-to-day operations or administration. If the schools are being run into the ground, surely the leadership for that direction is coming from the Superintendent rather than the Board. How is it that the Superintendent is blameless for the Times' perceived decline in Seattle Public Schools and the Board, who can only work through the Superintendent, is at fault? The Times doesn't say.

The Times gives the Board credit for funding six periods a day in high schools - noting that neighboring districts fund seven. The Times fails to mention that the State only funds five. All of the credit for this achievement goes to one Board member, Michael DeBell. Why? Wasn't he acting as part of a group? The Times doesn't say.

The Times blames the Board alone for the loss of grant money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Which action by the Board turned that money away? Again, the Superintendent is regarded as blameless by the Times - why?. Aren't they a "Board-Superintendent leadership team"? The Times doesn't say.

The Times suggests that the Board's scepticism about charter schools will cost the District future grants. Seattle voters have rejected charter schools again and again - over the Times support for them. The Times says that the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach High School will boost the school's tiny enrollment - it won't. TAF Academy will be a separate school from RBHS and is likely to take students AWAY from that school.

The Times says that the Board is a barrier to progress - what vote did they take against progress? I can't remember one. The Times doesn't say.

The Times says that the Board's priorities are completely out of whack with what the schools need - what is it that the Times thinks the schools need that the Board isn't doing? The Times doesn't say.

The Times says that the Board is simply ineffective. What did the Times expect them to do that they have not done? The Times doesn't say.

The fact is that the Seattle School Board has not worked well with the Superintendent. The reason for this is that the Superintendent would not take direction from the Board, would not adhere to District Policy, would not implement the reforms directed by the Board, and, in a number of other ways, failed to do his job and obstructed the Board's ability to do theirs.

The fact is that the Times supported the old Board. The fact is that the Times did not call for that Board's resignation when $35 million went missing - they did not even call for the Superintendent's resignation then. But now they are all worked up over $50,000 spent to explore the possible benefits of District-operated school buses.

The fact is that the Board is not incompetent and has not failed in its duties. The fact is that every Board vote does not have to be unanimous. The fact is that there is nothing that the Times can point to and say "Here is where and how the Board has failed." nor can they identify anything that the Board should have done but have not done. The Times simply disagrees with this Board's policies and values and therefore wants them out. The Times is repeating the lie, over and over again, that the Board is incompetent in the hope that people will come to accept it without evidence. The Times appears intent on talking down the District so badly that the upcoming levies fail - one more thing that they will blame on the Board.



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A failed school board should resign, now

The Seattle School District can only move beyond crisis mode and break its cycle of dysfunction when it is led by a new School Board.

Superintendent Raj Manhas' pending departure and the beginnings of a protracted search for the next schools chief highlight what this system has been missing all along: a strong board-superintendent leadership team. The majority of board members have failed Public Leadership 101: entering as individuals and acting as part of a group. Having never risen above the personal agendas that propelled them into office, board members are stuck on non-academic matters while the district veers from one emergency to the next.

A textbook example was the ill-fated push for Seattle to run its own school-bus system. For much of their tenure, board members Irene Stewart, Sally Soriano and Mary Bass have been obsessed with improving working conditions for bus drivers. This issue has nothing to do with classrooms and learning, yet the trio spent $50,000 in public funds on a consultant who studied a plan for the district to buy a fleet of buses and employ its own drivers.

No surprise there. A few years back, while district managers were negotiating new contracts with bus companies, Stewart wrote a Labor Harmony Agreement despite staff warnings it would lead to higher costs.

This city doesn't need a board bent on doing the politically correct thing for adults while students in classrooms go wanting.

We need an immediate change. Board members should cease their cling to power and do what's best for children. Much is at stake, including two money measures slated for the February ballot and a fraying relationship with state lawmakers, who determine the district's funding.
Former Mayor Norm Rice can shepherd us through this rough patch. The board should offer him a three-year contract as superintendent.

Then, save for Cheryl Chow and Michael DeBell, the board should step down: Soriano, Bass, Stewart, Brita Butler-Wall and Darlene Flynn.

Seattle is only as good as its schools. If the board is allowed to run our system into the ground, this city will be dragged down with it.

The board's successes are notable because they are so few. One shining example was the increase of high-school academic periods to six per day — neighboring districts offer seven. DeBell scrambled to find the $2 million to pay for it. Inexplicably, Soriano and Bass voted against the measure.

The message sent to the public: extra money for bus drivers, yes; money for kids, no. This board must go. Otherwise, the district will continue to lose families and supporters.

The board practically lost the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The largest in the world, the foundation has spent hundreds of millions on public schools and bestowed its first dollars years ago on Seattle's schools. But foundation officers declined to renew a $26 million grant and have adopted a wait-and-see approach to the district.

One situation the foundation is watching unfold is the School Board's hesitation on a plan to launch an academy on science, technology, engineering and math at Rainier Beach. The academy was co-founded by Trish Milines Dziko, a co-chair of a citizens committee that advised the superintendent on district finances.

All acknowledge the academy's potential to strengthen academics and boost Rainier Beach's tiny enrollment. But School Board members have long held an unhealthy suspicion of outside philanthropy in the schools. The academy is a good idea that may never happen.

This board has become the barrier to progress. Their priorities are completely out of whack with what the schools need.

The community needs resignations from five board members. A recall sets a bar difficult to climb, requiring a finding of misfeasance or malfeasance. This bunch is simply ineffective.

Upon resignation of five board members, the Puget Sound Educational Service District steps in and a new board is appointed.

We need to be vigilant about attracting a top-quality board. To get the people we want, we have to get rid of the people we've got.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Money (That's What I Want)

Money can’t fix everything, but isn’t it painfully obvious that additional state funding would alleviate at least a few of the problems of the Seattle School District, and probably those of other districts around the state? I’m not just talking about smaller class sizes, more money for books, teacher training, better enrollment staff and computers, etc. I'm envisioning money that could help move us from a siege and crisis reality to a rational blueprint for meaningful progress on those lofty educational and social equity goals that are as common as Halloween candy.

If you are one of those people that think that school closures, choice restriction, and private funding should be last resort financing schemes, now is the time to start agitating for real money from the people who are actually tasked with the job of slicing up the public pie.

This is the time to match education vision with specific proposals.

With Democrats nicely padding their seat margins in the Legislature in the recent election, I think it is safe to say that the climate for better funding hasn’t looked this good in a long time. And yes, I know we need a lot more than money (e.g. leadership, vision, smart people), but without it I think we are bound to spend a lot of time in screaming matches.

This week there are a couple of events of note for public education junkies. First, the Washington Learns Education Summit takes place on Monday. Details here. A final report is to be released and, if some of the preliminary materials available on their website are any indication, mighty winds will blow. Worth paying attention to, and commenting on as necessary, but I have some doubts as to the shelf life of this particular well-intentioned effort.

On Tuesday night, there is a Legislative Roundtable at Eckstein Middle School, sponsored by the Seattle Council of PTSA. Details here.

I received the following about what to expect:

This annual pre-legislative session event is an opportunity for PTA members and other constituents to share their advocacy and legislative priorities with their legislators. It is also an opportunity for legislators to share their objectives with their constituents, hence laying the foundation for the 2006 legislative session.

On a personal note, my family attended the Ruth Parker math presentation at Mercer Middle School on Thursday night, an excellent and probably more inspiring event than the one at Rainier Beach the same evening. Also attending was Washington Rep. Ross Hunter, a whip-smart Eastside Democrat who is deep on education issues. I was pleased that he was chatting with Carla Santorno and inviting her to lunch. But shouldn’t our District and Board officials be proposing lunch dates with powerful guys like Ross, and not the other way around? Maybe they are, but just out of the spotlight? I hope so!

Friday, November 10, 2006

More International Schools in Seattle?

Articles in both the PI and the Times today report on Carla Santorno's plans to create more international schools in Seattle.

- In the Times: School district to expand its worldly offerings

- And from the PI: School district eyes adding more language-immersion programs

"The district already has the Stanford school and Hamilton International Middle School, and Santorno envisions creating language-immersion programs at five more elementary schools, another middle school and two high schools...Ideally, the district will create the programs in different parts of the city, in existing buildings where the school staff is excited about incorporating a language-immersion program, she said."

Thursday, November 09, 2006

TAF Academy at Rainier Beach

Trish Millines Dziko made on a comment on a previous post (TAF & Seattle Public Schools Letter of Intent) that I want to make sure everyone sees, so I've copied it below:

As the person who crafted this Letter of Intent and as the founding director of TAF, I think it's important for me to comment on the letter and process.

About the process: Yes we have been talking to the District since September 2005. In every one of those 13 conversations, the RBHS Principal, the Director of High Schools, and the Executive Director of the Teachers Union were in attendance, except 4 of them. They each had an opportunity to tell their respective constituents what was going on. TAF made a choice to try to get District approval of the idea first instead of making a promise to the community that we couldn't keep. Then we wanted to walk together with the District as partners to work with the community on how this may work out. Right or wrong, that was our strategy. I can't say that in hindsight we'd do it differently, I just know we learned a lot and we're ready to move on to bring a great educational choice to the students.

The board is actually voting on the spirit of the partnership and giving permission to explore all of the things necessary to determine if this will work. That's it. TAF needed some form of commitmennt before we could spend anymore time and money. This letter was edited and approved by the Board's Student Learning Committee which is composed of Chery Chow, Darlene Flynn, and Sally Soriano. I cannot speak to why Brita Butler-Wall has not seen it. But if you read carefully, the Student Learning Committee must approve the MOU and we must report progress to them every month. At anytime it may end up that this doesn't work.

TAF has been serving Seattle Area students of color for over 10 years. We created TAF Academy to give the students an opportunity to be successful in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. We choose Southeast Seattle (RBHS specifically) because there are no choices like TAF Academy available to them.

I am very happy to answer any questions you may have, and I encourage you to look at our website for updates on TAF Academy and answers to frequently asked questions.

Finally, we have no problem being challenged for our ideas, but we don't think it's fair to be challenged based on misinformation. We're transparent. Just ask.

Thanks, Trish Millines Dziko, Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation

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Also, on the same topic, I received this e-mail today:

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Dear Rainier Beach High School Alumni and Friends-

Here's your opportunity to hear about proposed plans for locating the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach High School:

Trish Dziko of the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) will discuss plans for Rainier Beach High School with Rainier Beach Community members, THIS THURSDAY, November 9th from 6:30- 8:00p.m at the Rainier Beach Coalition for Community Empowerment meeting, to be held at the Rainier Beach Community Center, 8825 Rainier Ave. S...The School District is intending to proceed with plans relating to the TAF Academy, so it is critical that everyone who cares what happens to Rainier Beach High School provide input NOW before plans are finalized.

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If you attend this meeting tonight, please post comments here and let us know what you learned.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why not Norm Rice AND a national search?

There’s a lot of finger-pointing these days at Seattle Public Schools. Who is to blame for the crisis we are in: Superintendent Raj Manhas? The School Board? The angry protestors? The State for under-funding education? The one thing we know for sure is: It’s the children who suffer when the adults can’t provide the necessary leadership.

Along comes a great suggestion from a group of community leaders who understand that it doesn’t matter who is to blame—the real question is: What are we going to do about it? And one leader is so passionate that he has offered up his own services. That leader is former Mayor Norm Rice.

Contrary to reports, nobody has asked the School Board to choose between Norm Rice or a national search. Norm Rice has offered to serve only as interim Superintendent while the best long-term candidate is identified. And, let’s face it: After Superintendent Manhas’ much publicized difficulties with the School Board and parents, it might take longer than year-end to find a replacement. It will certainly be harder than the School Board’s botched national search three years ago which yielded nothing when all of the finalists withdrew their names.

Meanwhile, who is leading the district? Despite Superintendent Manhas’ best intentions, he will be unable to champion much-needed change without the support of the School Board or the community. And, other district executives are jumping ship. The CFO and Director of Communications have resigned, and there are signs that others will follow. How is a leader who is leaving supposed to convince others to stay or effectively recruit the most talented replacements?

Norm Rice, on the other hand, is a proven, decisive leader, who understands this city and knows how to unite communities. He is capable of rebuilding confidence from an increasingly discontented public whom we rely on for support when our district levies come up for renewal in February. Norm Rice brings prestige back to the position, paving the way for a world-class superintendent to follow.

How disappointing that the first reported reaction of the School Board was negative. Now is not the time for egos and power struggles—there’s too much at stake. No more finger pointing or defiance. Norm Rice doesn’t need this job. It’s all about helping the children in our great city, who deserve much better than they are getting. It’s time we all stood together for a change. No matter what your opinion is about who got us into this mess, there is no denying that former Mayor Norm Rice is the most logical, constructive idea we’ve heard yet for working together to get us out of it.

(Originally written, along with input from other CPPS Board members, to submit as guest editorial to the Seattle Times, but looks like they're already covered with Lyn Varner's editorial in today's paper.)

And to reiterate what Beth said below in her post, please make your views on the superintendent known, whatever they are. You can email them to Superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org (now a featured link on the right side of this blog).

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Norm Rice or A Nationwide Search for a Superintendent?

The School Board is preparing for a nationwide search for a new superintendent for Seattle Public Schools (see the PI's School district gearing up for search).

Meanwhile, the suggestion of having Norm Rice replace Raj Manhas continues as the topic of discussion at dinner tables and in offices around the city.

I admit to being on the fence about the idea of appointing Norm Rice as a temporary solution to the leadership vacuum at Seattle Public Schools. I'm opposed to government takeover of public schools. I'm not sure what Norm would do as an interim superintendent. And buying out Raj's contract would be expensive. But, I do like the idea of having Raj leave sooner rather than later. I worry about what is going to happen to Seattle schools (and the public perception of the schools) during almost 10 more months with ineffective district leadership.

And, the memory of the last failed search for a superintendent is still relatively fresh in many people's minds. As a colleague said to me at work today, would you rather see Norm Rice as superintendent or watch the School Board go through another national search?

Share your thoughts at the new e-mail address set up by the distict: Superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org. I've placed a permanent link to this e-mail address at the right.

Everyone Weighs in on Hiring a New Seattle Schools Superintendent

School Board President, Brita Butler-Wall, does not think that rushing to hire a new superintendent for Seattle Schools is a good idea. She wants to take the necessary time for a national search, holding discussions about what we are looking for in a superintendent, and then hiring the best person for the job. See the PI article, "Too soon for a new school district leader" for more details.

The PI's editorial piece, Seattle Public Schools: Suck it up, board, seems to argue against hiring Norm Rice and for a full superintendent search, but it also throws in the idea of an appointed School Board with members paid for their work. Frankly, I think the writing and ideas are unclear.

The guest column in the PI by two Alliance for Education Board members, School district hopes for leadership, is clearer about what is being recommended. "the School Board could appoint a new superintendent before year-end and buy out the remainder of Manhas' contract, which expires at the end of the school year. Bringing in a new leader without overindulgence in process would send a powerful message of hope to the community."

And in the Seattle Times article, "Mayor walks tightrope on schools", the idea of an appointed School Board is brought up again by former Seattle School Board member, Don Nielsen. Cheryl Chow apparently does not appreciate Mayor Nickels' interest in the matter, "Chow said on Saturday that Nickels should focus on fixing potholes and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, not intervening in school matters."

Monday, November 06, 2006

Lowell School Proposal Meeting Tonight

Tonight at 6:30 pm is a public meeting at the John Stanford Center on the recent proposal to move the special education students out of Lowell.

For more details see:

TAF & Seattle Public Schools Letter of Intent

Thanks to Melissa Westbrook, here is the Letter of Intent between TAF & Seattle Public Schools.

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Letter of Intent

Since September 2005, The Technology Access Foundation (TAF), a nonprofit educational corporation, has been meeting with several key Seattle Public Schools (SPS) members including the Superintendent, Chief Academic Officer, several school board members, middle and high school directors, and principals to explore a partnership to bring TAF Academy (a 6th-12th grade school model with a theme of Science, Technology, Engineering. and Math) to Rainier Beach High School.

After a year of discussing strategies and issues, we have determined that TAF and SPS will collaborate to bring the TAF Academy model to Rainer Beach High school with the following parameters:

  • TAF Academy will collocate with the current Rainier Beach program.
  • There will be a total of 525 students (75 students per grade) enrolled in TAF Academy.
  • TAF Academy will start in September 2008 with a 6th, 7th, and 9th grade class.
  • Implementation will be contingent on the simultaneous review and refinement of the current Rainier Beach program. This plan will be developed by the Rainier Beach staff with a funding mechanism that assures equity between programs.
  • Potential negative impacts on enrollment and or program of the non-TAF school at Rainier Beach High School will be analyzed and mitigated before moving forward.

The Seattle School Board plays a critical role in this collaboration. The full Board must approve the idea of the partnership and the Board's Student Learning Committee (SLC) must approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines items such as the partnership intent, community engagement, impact on the students, community and District, roles and responsibilities, and schedule, etc. The MOU will answer critical questions to ensure the partnership has the desired intent-to provide a high quality educational option to the students in the Rainier Beach area.

TAF and SPS will regularly report progress of the MOU actions to the SLC. Upon final approval of the work, TAF and SPS will develop a legally binding Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) that specifies how TAF and SPS will operate the school once it has opened. The JOA must also be approved by the Seattle School Board.

TAF and SPS will prepare necessary materials to have this proposal introduced to the Seattle School Board on November 15, 2006 with a vote on December 6, 2006 to approve the idea of the partnership and give SPS permission to work with TAF to create the MOU and present it to the SLC.

Dated the 25th day of October 2006

Seattle Public Schools, Raj Manhas

Technology Access Foundation, Trish Millines Dziko

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Hamilton won't know what hit 'em

The Program Placement Committee has proposed placing some portion of the middle school APP students at Hamilton International Middle School. This will represent a radical change in APP; the cohort will be split as it leaves elementary school. Even more so, however, it could represent a radical change for Hamilton.

While Program Placement has not indicated how many APP students will be placed at Hamilton, the number cannot be less than 180 and may be as high as 250 or more. If Hamilton's total enrollment is about 1,000 students, that's 18% to 25% of the student body who are there for APP, not for the international-themed curriculum.

When APP is at Hamilton you can expect Hamilton's Spectrum program to become a whole lot more popular. Right now, about 75% of the Spectrum-eligible students in the Northeast Region enroll at Eckstein, but that is likely to change. Of the 300 now at Eckstein, I would guess that somewhere from 90 to 180 will choose Hamilton with APP instead.

Hamilton has a current enrollment of about 730. Add to that the 200 or so APP students and the school fills up to the building's stated capacity (with portables) of 928. So there is no room for growth of the Spectrum program. That means that for every new Spectrum student who comes into the school, a general education student is squeezed out. If 180 new Spectrum students came in, that would translate to 180 general education students squeezed out.

I don't think the Spectrum students will be coming to Hamilton for the international-themed curriculum anymore than the APP students. I could be wrong about that, but there's a strong possibility of 200 students there for APP and another 200 students there for Spectrum. That's about 40% of the school population who are new to the school and not necessarily very interested in what you have built there. They are likely to be a bit miffed when they learn that they can't gain entry to the Spanish Immersion program or the Japanese Immersion program. Hamilton has to reserve space for both of these programs as well as APP and Spectrum. The Japanese program is new, so every new Japanese immersion student who comes into the building will be pushing out a general education student as well.

APP will make Hamilton more attractive to students other than Spectrum students. A number of general education students will want to enroll at Hamilton as well. Again, each new one who comes in will push out one who would otherwise be there.

If BEX III passes, Hamilton will move into Lincoln for a couple years and then, in 2010, move into a totally renovated building. That is sure to attract some new students. Ballard's enrollment went up 50% when it was renovated. If Hamilton becomes even 20% more popular, that's another 150 students coming to the school, pushing out 150 students who might otherwise be there.

The new building will have 1,000 seats. 100 are for special education students. There are 12 other sections (classes) in each grade. Two or three of the sections will be for APP - probably three. Two or three of the sections will be for Spectrum - probably three. Three sections will be for the language immersion program students coming out of John Stanford. That only leaves three sections, room for 90 students per grade, for general education.


The students pushed out won't be APP students - they will be guaranteed their seats. They won't be Spectrum students - the school might cap the program, but not lower than two or three sections per grade. They won't be Spanish or Japanese immersion students; they are guaranteed their seats as well. It won't be ELL or Special Education students; the school will continue to have their share of them. The students denied access to the new Hamilton will be general education students.

And who are these general education students who won't be able to get into Hamilton in the future? Following the district's current tie-breakers they will be the students without siblings at the school who live farthest away. In short, they will first be the students who come to Hamilton from the Southeast Region. After that, they will be other students from outside the Region - those who come long distances for the international-themed curriculum. Finally, they will be students from the north edge of the Region.

How will the loss of the students from the Southeast Region affect Hamilton's diversity? I can't say with any accuracy, but some things are clear. The students in APP and Spectrum are predominantly White - these programs are 70% White in a district that is only 40% White in a city that is 70% White. Very few of the APP and Spectrum students qualify for free or reduced price lunches. The students in the Southeast Region, on the other hand, are predominantly minority and they qualify for free or reduced price lunches at a higher rate than the Distirct as a whole. There will be some who will suggest that White, affluent students are displacing minority and poor students. This change will occur just as Hamilton moves into a totally renovated building. There will be charges of racism and Hamilton will be on the sharp end of the pointed fingers.

Are you ready for this, Hamilton? Are you ready to see 40% (or more) of your students in APP or Spectrum, not coming to Hamilton for the international-themed curriculum? Are you ready to see as few as 90 seats a year available for general education students?

Did the District come and explain this to you? Did anyone from the District come to Hamilton and discuss the possible impacts on the school as a result of adding APP to your building? Has your principal given you any assurances of any kind? Can your principal - who won't be there in 2007 - give you any assurances of any kind? Did you know that the District believes that the proposal has the support of the Hamilton community? How is that possible when most of the Hamilton community just learned about the idea last week? Did you know that this proposal includes assurances that the Hamilton community will welcome APP and support the program with the necessary resources?

Let's presume for a moment that my words are intended to frighten and alarm you. Is anything I wrote unreasonable? Are you frightened or alarmed? Should you be? What details do you have to counter this projection? Do you know how many APP students are coming? Do you know how big the Spectrum program at Hamilton may grow? Do you know how the increase in APP and Spectrum students will impact Hamilton's demographics? A lot of other projections are possible, but I can't imagine any projection in which students from Southeast Seattle - other than those with siblings at the school - continue to gain access to Hamilton. If you think it will go differently, I'd love to hear about it.

It's Time for Visionary Leadership...

I sent this to the School Board last week and it went out in the CPPS newsletter. I'm posting here as well so folks can comment. This is why the idea of bring former mayor Rice excites me. This is why I admire Dr. Mike Riley (Supt of Bellevue) as I've commented elsewhere on this Blog...

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By Andrew Kwatinetz, Seattle public school parent and CPPS board member

I hoped Raj Manhas would succeed as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. I admire his character, intelligence, dedication, and genuine passion to do what is right for the children of Seattle. I was one of the 14 people who volunteered hundreds of hours for his Community Advisory Committee for Investing in Education Excellence. With the support of the district staff and extensive community input, we provided 21 specific recommendations to the superintendent. An independent survey showed that two-thirds or more of Seattle residents supported every component of the proposed plan. Yet almost a year later, Raj has failed to build the support from the public and the Board that we believed was possible. Many of our specific recommendations attracted a lot of attention, such as school closure, changes to transportation, and better management of surplus real estate. Unfortunately, not enough attention went to the area we stated was the highest priority: leadership.

What distinguishes great leaders is their tireless focus on a vision for the future, one which is proactive rather than reactive. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not content with simply improving the conditions of racial inequality: he dreamt of a day when there might be complete equality. Bill Gates and Paul Allen didn’t focus on making better software for the mainframe computers of 1976—they foresaw a day when computers would sit on desks and in homes. Visionary leaders take every opportunity to sell people on their vision: constituents, partners, optimists, pessimists. They can make difficult or unpopular decisions because their vision excites and inspires, and supports sacrifices for a greater good.

The Superintendent failed to demonstrate a direct connection to the greater good with his recent cost-cutting proposals. Simply saying that money will be saved is not good enough because it is only a band-aid, and a small one at that. One can debate the motivations that led to the disproportional impact of the cuts, but why should those affected trust the district when it appears as if nothing has really changed? The negative impression left behind by this process threatens to further damage the district. Already, a higher percentage of Seattle parents choose private school than in any other large city in the country, many others move out of the city to attend schools in other districts, and a significant percentage send their kids to schools other than their neighborhood school. Sometimes people make their choices for legitimate alternative education needs, but too often they simply don’t feel comfortable with their neighborhood schools. Because of the way state funding works, these choices create the greatest financial strain on the district. Rather than succumb to these choices, we need a leader that will question them and hold himself or herself accountable to them. We need a leader who does not position difficult budget cuts as end goals in themselves, but as calculated steps toward a real vision for academic excellence for all the students and schools in our school system.

Leadership should be the top priority in the selection process for the next superintendent. The School Board’s hands-on approach to managing the district, too often dealing with crises arising from the lack of a visionary Superintendent, is neither sustainable nor rewarding. The strong emotions at the recent Board meetings should come as no surprise because that is how people react in the absence of clearly articulated strategies. Visionary leaders can channel this kind of passion; they welcome passion. The Seattle Superintendent job will attract them because they seek out the toughest challenges and the reward that comes from helping 46,000 kids. The School Board must partner with all the stakeholders of the district (parents, community, staff, city, business, state) to recruit such a person. More than anything, visionary leaders want an environment where they can succeed. The greater community must welcome them. And, the School Board must assure them they will reward accountability with autonomy. Changes in leadership are never easy, but with change comes opportunity. Let’s all work together to make the most of this opportunity.

Norm Rice or Tom Vander Ark for Superintendent?

The idea, which has been around for a while, of Norm Rice being hired as the next Seattle Schools superintendent, was given extra life today by the PI in their article, Will Rice ride to schools' rescue? and by the Seattle Times in their article, Mayor pushes Rice for Seattle school head.

An article in the Seattle Times this week, Vander Ark steps down from education post at Gates Foundation, makes me think Tom Vander Ark is throwing is hat in the ring for the Seattle Schools superintendent job. According to the article, he is staying with the Gates Foundation with a new position in January 2007 as a Senior Fellow. But I also read a recent quote of his that no one should stay in a foundation for too long, and that he wants to get back in the field.

Vander Ark is the candidate touted by Robert Jamieson, Jr. in the PI today in his column, Jamieson: Take this schools job and love it. But he also discussed the Norm Rice rumor and other potential ideas, such as the Buffalo schools superintendent, Dr. James Williams.

Here are some selected links about all three possible candidates:

Rice:

Vander Ark:

Williams:

I know it is the job of the School Board to recruit and hire the superintendent, but let's help them out. Who do you think we should be considering for the job? And what should the criteria be for selecting a new superintendent?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Special Education Students to Be Dispersed?

As described by Charlie Mas in an earlier post (APP Update), the district is considering changes to the Advanced Learning programs. As part of that discussion, the plan on the table now suggests dispersing the special education students from Lowell to schools around the district. See the Times article "Special-needs students may leave Lowell" for details.

"Michelle Corker-Curry, Seattle Public Schools' associate academic officer, said she had heard of no special-education parents voicing concerns about the move." This quote comes after the two quotes by parents of children with special needs doing just that. Why is that Jessica Blanchard of the PI has heard of special-education parents voicing concern, but Michelle Corker-Curry of Seattle Public Schools has not?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Private Money is Evil

I've been trying to keep an open mind about the proposal for a TAF Academy and the Rainier Beach school and community opposition to it, but I think I need some help. I have been called naive at times (rightfully so), and so I am asking for more experienced and skeptical education advocates to help me out on my understanding of this issue.

This is what I gleaned from today's article in the PI, "At Rainier Beach High School, 'we're fighting for our lives'."
  1. Private money is evil.
  2. Any proposal that does not follow the current Seattle Public School model is wrong, and should not even be considered or discussed.
  3. The district has not supported Rainier Beach High School appropriately in the past.
  4. The district does a rotten job with communicating new ideas and getting public involvement.

I totally get #3 and #4, and completely agree. But I have serious problems with #1 and #2.

Based on discussions and testimony over the last year, I have also learned that:

  1. Many people do not trust the superintendent or district staff to do what is right for all children in Seattle, particularly children of color.
  2. Many people do not think the School Board has demonstrated adequate leadership, resulting in many students, especially children of color, being inadequately served.
  3. The district, and the state, are woefully under-funded.

So, if I were to put both sets of these statements together, we would end up with the following conclusions:

  • More public money for Seattle Public Schools would be good, but private money, no matter how it is received would be bad, and proposals involving it should not be considered or explored. Philanthropists and non-profits with money to give should go elsewhere.
  • The district has not been successful in helping all children be successful, especially children of color. But proposals for change from private foundations, educational non-profits, and educational research organizations should be rejected. The only route to success is to stay with current educational models and work within the current education system, despite the belief that it is broken.

I don't believe the school district should enter into public/private partnerships where the details are hidden from the public. And I have some serious concerns about the risks of such ventures. (See Public-Private Partnerships with Seattle Schools?)

But I think it is absurd and incredibly short-sighted to close the door to all public-private partnerships out of fear of the possible negative consequences. Let's keep the goal of high quality education for all students in focus, and explore all options that have the potential to improve education for students in Seattle Public Schools.

Why not explore public-private partnerships but require transparency? What about working to establish guidelines for what types of public-private partnerships would be acceptable, and which ones would not?

And finally, returning to the TAF proposal specifically, what exactly would success look like and what would it mean? The original proposal for Rainier Beach to become a TAF Academy, replacing existing programming, received strong opposition and has been dropped. The current proposal is for a co-location of a TAF Academy and the existing education program at Rainier Beach High School.

According to community activists, it sounds like "success" would be the rejection of this co-location proposal as well. That leads us to a scenario where we would rejoice over the rejection of an innovative educational program designed to help children of color, which would have also brought additional resources into the school. I find that hard to celebrate.