Sunday, December 31, 2006

Teachers and Magic

There's an interesting website (and now a book) called Post Secret. PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Are they all for real? I don't know but many of them seem quite heartfelt and it certainly makes you feel like you aren't alone in the world. They put up a new set every Sunday.

The reason I bring it up is in this week's batch is one with a photo of an empty classroom. The words stuck over it say, "Every day I am asked to be a magician in a world where magic does not exist." Someone wrote in agreeing that much is asked of teachers and yet many or most go back because they believe it is possible.

Do we ask too much of teachers as either individual parents or a society? Is it reasonable to ask anything of them due to principal direction contraints? What is asking too much of a teacher? Teachers, weigh in.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Media, Public Perception and School Reform

I came across the following quote in a book I am reading, Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform by Frederick M. Hess.


Individuals without firsthand evidence about politics or policy rely heavily on the cues provided by local activists, community leaders, and the media. The result is that media coverage has a bigger impact in large districts than in small districts. The community's reliance on local leaders and the media for cues about a district's performance reduces district leaders' ability to directly shape perceptions of system quality. This situation encourages the school leadership to emphasize visible and dramatic initiatives that will translate well to the general public.
Is this true for Seattle? Certainly the media has a large amount of influence on public perception of schools. And depending upon which paper someone reads (Times or PI), the perception may vary significantly. But what about the tendency for leadership to "emphasize visible and dramatic initiatives that will translate well to the general public"? The school closure and consolidation plan was dramatic, but did not translate well to the general public. What other recent initiatives either follow or diverge from the theory presented here?

Spectrum, APP and Teaching

The hot topic of conversation this past week on this blog deserves a thread of its own. This is not a topic that I have much knowledge on, so I'll just pose a few questions:

1) What happens in schools where there is a Spectrum program? Are students in that program treated differently? Taught differently? Are they clearly identified as "Spectrum" students, and if so, what is the effect on the school community?

2) What happens in schools where there is NOT a Spectrum program? Do students leave the school to find a Spectrum program? Does the school group advanced learners anyhow? And if so, how?

3) What happens to gifted students when they don't have advanced learning opportunities? Do most students who test into APP choose the program? What are the benefits of part-day pull-out groups? What are the benefits of a separate program?

4) Can the same teaching strategies used for students in the Spectrum program be used with all students?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Schools and PTA Fundraising

New article in the Times today Schools Bank on Parents' Ability to Raise Cash about PTA fundraising. Some of these sums take your breath away but that 's the reality of the system we live in and work with. There seems to be a growing awareness of this inequity but there seems to be little that can be done because between no one in leadership wants to address it. The article doesn't go very deep and I think there are deeper issues than the ones addressed here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Superintendent Search Firm

I attended the School Board meeting last night. It was Director Chow's first foray as President of the Board. She was fine if a little tentative. Michael deBell and Mary Bass could not be there. The main business was approval of the search firm for superintendent. They voted unianamously to hire Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I looked up the firm on the web. Not a great website but they look good. They do recruit (not just put out notice of the job and wait for candidates) so that's good. I didn't seem to find much in the way of how they help Boards with the process but I hope there is some public involvement.

There will be a meeting on Wed, Dec. 27 from 5-7 at the Stanford Center between Ray and Associates and the Board to go over parameters. It is open to the public but I do not believe there will be any public input allowed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Chief financial officer

In this morning's PI:

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/296509_tl120.html

He sounds very good as an educator. I'm hoping he has the financial background for the job. SPS is a lot larger than Enumclaw.

Program Placement decisions memo

Here is the memo with the program placement decisions that were due in December:


Memorandum
To:
Superintendent Manhas
From: Carla Santorno, Mark Green, Michelle Corker-Curry, Courtney Jones
CC: Pat Sander, Ruth Medsker, Patrick Johnson, Gloria Mitchell, Louis Martinez, Shannon McMinimee, Linda Sebring, Nan Stavnshoj, Holly Ferguson, Duggan Harman, Kathy Johnson, Tracy Libros, Rachel Cassidy, Hajara Rahim, Fred Stephens, Ed Heller, Dave Anderson, Ammon McWashington Linda Hoste, Colleen Stump, School Principals
Date: December 15, 2006
Re: Program Placement Recommendations for the 2007-2008 School Year
________________________________________________________
The following program placement recommendations are for implementation in the 2007-2008 school year. The committee works to recommend the placement of programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts; to place programs equitably across the District ; to place programs where students reside; to utilize physical space effectively and to ensure that space needs are met across the District.

The committee makes program location recommendations to the Superintendent, who, pursuant to School Board Policy F21.00, has ultimate decision making authority related to program placement. With the emphasis on providing the most cost-effective alternatives, portable and facility modifications are recommended only where definite space issues exist.

All recommendations fall under at least one of the following categories:

○ Special Education
○ Bilingual Programs
○ Advanced Learning
○ New Programs
○ Portable and Facility Requests
○ Pending/Ongoing Program Placement Requests


Focus on Consolidation and Closure
This year the committee focused primarily on the schools affected by consolidation and closure.
The committee limited the scope of recommendations due to the number of changes required as part of this process. Therefore, most recommendations pertain to elementary schools, and facility modifications are limited to the schools affected by consolidation and closure so the work can be completed for opening of schools in 2007-08.

The “Superintendent’s Final Recommendations on School Closure and Consolidation: Phase I,” published on July 5, 2006, and the School Board Motion of July 26, 2006 adopting the Superintendent’s Final Recommendations with certain modifications (in particular, the decision not to merge Viewlands and Greenwood, and the Board’s subsequent vote to merge Viewlands and Broadview Thompson), identified placements for most, but not all, programs. The programs that were not sited through the consolidation and closure determination by the School Board include: Fairmount Park Behavior Intervention program, Rainier View Head Start, Whitworth Low Incidence A program, Viewlands Special Education preschool, and all programs located at the John Marshall building. The Superintendent’s Final Recommendations contemplated that the ORCA Academically/Behaviorally Challenged program would move with the school to the Whitworth building, however, it was subsequently determined that space will not be available for that program once ORCA grows into a K-8.

The committee reviewed placements for these programs, with the exception of the programs located at Marshall, and the recommendations for placements are attached. As set forth in the Superintendent’s Final Recommendations, the Marshall program is currently under review. Once this review is completed the locations for the programs in the Marshall building will be identified on a separate program placement timeline.

Communication
District Staff:
Once the recommendations are finalized and approved, the official notification will be sent out from Chief Academic Officer, Carla Santorno. An email will be sent to the program placement committee, Instructional Directors, senior leadership team, to all school principals and program managers.

Families:
The Special Education and Enrollment Planning Departments will send out letters to families of Special Education students who currently attend a school that is closing but who will not attend the receiving school due to the placement of the Special Education program they attend. Memos explaining the recommendations will be sent from the Special Education Department to all schools sending or receiving programs. A summary of this information will be made available on the Books and Bricks (consolidation and closure) website in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. This information will be included in the 2007-08 Enrollment Guides for Families.



PROGRAM PLACEMENT COMMITTEE
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE 2007-2008 SCHOOL YEAR
SPECIAL EDUCATION

The schools listed below are receiving Special Education programs from schools that are being consolidated or closed. For a list of programs that will be offered at the newly consolidated schools see Appendix 1.

Schools Receiving Programs from Schools that are Consolidating or Closing

Program
Fairmount Park: Intermediate Behavior Intervention Program
Proposed Placement
Gatewood
Recommendation
Recommend placement of Fairmount Park Intermediate Behavior Intervention Program at Gatewood. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Whitworth: Intermediate Low Incidence A
Proposed Placement
Brighton
Recommendation
Recommend placement of Whitworth Intermediate Low Incidence A at Brighton. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Rainier View: Head Start
Proposed Placement
Emerson
Recommendation
Recommend placement of Rainier View Head Start at Emerson as part of the merger of the two schools.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Viewlands: Special Education Preschool
Proposed Placement
Whittier
Recommendation
Recommend placement of Viewlands Special Education Preschool at Whittier. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Orca: Primary Academically/Behaviorally Challenged (ABC) program
Proposed Placement
Hawthorne
Recommendation
Recommend placement of Orca Primary Academically/ Behaviorally Challenged program at Hawthorne. This is a change from Superintendent’s Final Recommendation. There is not room for this program, and the two medically fragile classes that will remain at Whitworth, and for program to grow to K-8.
Approved
R. Manhas
SPECIAL EDUCATION

The schools listed below are recommendations for Special Education that are not part of the closure and consolidation process. The rationale for these recommendations is included below.

Program
Lowell: Special Education Programs (various levels)
Proposed Placement
N/A
Recommendation
Recommend that no programs be moved out of Lowell for the 2007-08 school year. This is a change from the preliminary recommendation concerning the relocation of Special Education programs currently sited at Lowell Elementary. A preliminary recommendation was made out of concern for student access to typically developing peers. Upon review this preliminary recommendation was revised. The final recommendation is to use the 2007-08 year as a planning year to review possible placements for the various programs that are currently housed at Lowell.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Wilson-Pacific: Special Education Preschools
Proposed Placement
Greenwood
Recommendation
Recommend that the Wilson-Pacific Special Ed Preschools move intact to Greenwood. Last year (05-06) we did not recommend this move because no options for placements were identified. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Consolidation and Closure recommended that the District consider a relocation of the programs currently at Wilson-Pacific, and through the closure and consolidation process Greenwood was identified as an appropriate site with capacity for additional special education programs. Several schools were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation. The move is recommended so that the students can have access to a typical school environment. The program will require the use of four classrooms on the first floor of the building (3 for classrooms, 1 for OT/PT). The OT/PT equipment will be moved and installed at Greenwood. They are moving intact so that the teachers can continue to collaborate to meet the unique needs of these students, and this also allows for the move and facility modification costs to be minimized.
Approved
R. Manhas
Program
Maple: Behavior Intervention Program
Proposed Placement
N/A
Recommendation
Request Not Considered for the 2007-08 school year. Maple submitted a program placement request form asking that their Special Education Behavior Intervention Program be moved to a different school. This year the committee’s primary focus was on identifying locations for programs affected by the closure process, therefore this request was not considered for the 2007-08 school year. This request can be considered in the future as part of the program placement process.
Approved
R. Manhas

BILINGUAL PROGRAMS

Program
New Program: Dual Language (Spanish/English)
Proposed Placement
Concord
Recommendation
Recommend implementation of a Spanish/English dual language immersion program at Concord beginning with two sections of kindergarten in 2007-08. The new dual language program will grow and add one grade level each year until it becomes a K-5 program. The school will maintain one class of traditional general education at all grade levels for students who are not interested in the dual language program. This academic model has been shown to be the most promising means for closing the achievement gap for English language learners while enhancing the opportunities for all students in the program to develop strong bilingual and bi-literacy skills.

The demographics of Concord Elementary (60% Latino, 48% English language learners, 89% free or reduced lunch) make it an ideal site for this program. It will meet the needs of the students and will help to close the achievement gap.

*See Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 for more information.
Approved
R. Manhas
OTHER PROGRAM REQUESTS

Program
T.T. Minor: Preschool
Proposed Placement
N/A
Recommendation
● Recommend extending the Montessori program to include 3rd grade. The District will continue to fund the 1.0 Montessori FTE, but any additional staff will be funded from the building budget. It will become a K-3 program, allowing students currently enrolled in Montessori to remain in the program as they move up a grade.
Approved
R. Manhas
ADVANCED LEARNING

Program
New Site: Middle School APP
Proposed Placement
Hamilton
Timeline:
07-08: Planning year
08-09: 6th grade cohort
09-10: 6th and 7th grade cohorts
10-11: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade cohorts
Recommendation
Recommendation: Beginning in 2008-2009, students in APP will be served at both Hamilton and Washington Middle Schools. The new site at Hamilton will open a 6th grade cohort in 2008-2009. Currently, the enrollment in APP at Washington is affecting the number of students who can enroll in the school’s various programs. Creating a new APP site will maintain the integrity of all programs at both schools.
Approved
R. Manhas

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Junk food in high schools

This was a timely article (for me) because the Site Council at Roosevelt High School was just discussing this issue with our student leaders. They are all very unhappy with the loss of money which, of course, is more keenly felt at schools that have fewer resources.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/296428_junkfood19.html

This was one of the first pieces of work that Brita took on as a new director and it was very important to her as she started and headed a nutrition in schools group that received national attention. However, as the article reveals, there was no real idea of what to do when the revenues dropped (as they surely knew they would). It wasn't fair of the Board to not work with the schools on what to do.

I found a couple of Brita's remarks interesting. One, that she says that schools, student bodies, will need to do some soul-searching on what projects they fund. Well, when your funding for things like a schoolwide spirit day or the yearbook gets cut by two-thirds, it becomes more than soul searching. Roosevelt is selling smoothies and popcorn and it's not making a lot of money. Two, she makes a good point: it's the kids and the staff spending the money on junk food. If they wanted to support school spirit, they would buy - at least some of the time - the food at school.

This is a very difficult subject. We do have a duty as adults to provide for kids good food choices. However, as a parent of teenagers and as a parent who has hung out around a couple of high schools, I can't believe the junk these kids want to eat for lunch. And there is no mechanism to make them stop. Seriously. They have their own money, they have the ability to leave campus and they do. It's sad because it just hurts them to get a sugar high (and then they crash later on in class and it's not enough for a growing body. But you can tell them that, even the athletes, and they will laugh at you.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Separating Fact from Fiction in our schools

Separate Fact from Fiction in our schools
This is a good opinion piece in today's PI. The two authors have a calm tone and good outlook. You should also check out the two sound off letters that accompany it on-line.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Conversion on KUOW today

I was listening to the last half of The Conversation today on KUOW. Their topic had been Seattle as the most literate city. Then that ended and the host said they would talk to the new head of Neighborhoods and "the crisis in Seattle Schools". I was kind of surprised as there was only about 17 minutes left in the program. He briefly interviewed the Neighborhood head and then went on to the schools.

He was talking to Venus Velazquez who was a member of the CACIEE, the Superintendent's Committee. (She had previously been interviewed, along with Don Nielson and Lynne Varner of the Times editorial board, on the Seattle Channel.) I was not happy with most of her answers and some of how the interview went. Here's the e-mail I sent:

Hi,
I was listening to the tail end of The Conversation today and heard the piece about Seattle schools. I am saddened by a couple of things.

1. I noticed that Ross Reynolds said it was going to be an occasional series called Are Seattle Schools in Crisis? Do you think you could just a bit more neutral (or fair) and call it "Seattle Schools Today" or "Assessing Seattle Schools"? Crisis is a loaded word.

2. Ms. Velasquez said it was disingenious for Cheryl Chow to say that Seattle Schools are not headed for a financial crisis (even with a $25M reserve). Talk about disingenious! The reason (which Superintendent Manhas and the Board have said - repeatedly) is that the state's funding is not going to meet costs (for any district and that's why many districts are suing the state over Special Ed funding), NOT because of any ineffective management in Seattle. Again, be fair and do your homework.

3. Ms. Velasquez says appointed boards would be good but then says it should be a local decision. Okay, but only the Legislature can make the decision to change how schools are run. I think it unlikely that they would pass a bill that would let every district be managed differently. And if they decided that, would that mean every city would vote on whether the voters decide, the Mayor, the Mayor AND the City Council or some combination? I have tried, repeatedly, to contact Senator Murray to ask about his much-touted (by the Mayor and the Seattle Times) proposed legislation that school boards be appointed. I've had no luck. Maybe you, as journalists, might have better luck.

4. Ms. Velasquez also said there are failing schools. Yes, and speaking as a member of the Closure and Consolidation Committee, we were charged with finding them. The district is closing schools. The district does offer parents of schools failing under NCLB (and failing is a subjective word here) other schools to go to and parents are taking them up on it. (Another interesting story as there are schools who "buy down" class size by paying for extra teachers. However, they are now finding that they must take on new students under NCLB if those students want to leave failing schools. You can imagine how parents who raise that money for smaller class sizes feel about that issue.) It's not like the district is sitting on its hands.

Seattle Schools are having a rough time but I submit they are not in crisis or drifting (as the Mayor says). Could you please use as neutral a tone as possible? I don't care if your guests choose to state their opinions (but it would be nice if it were backed up in fact) but I would hope that as journalists you would want to present a balance to the issues.

Mel W.

Positive PR for Seattle Public Schools

In contrast to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Weekly has provided more balanced and in-depth coverage of Seattle Public Schools. Last week, Nina Shapiro wrote an interesting article about Trish Millines-Dziko, TAF and Rainier Beach (Schooling the District). This week, she provides some positive PR for the Cleveland High School in her article, Southern Exposure, tying the issues of perception of quality, race, and choice together, and relating these issues to the current Supreme Court case on using race as a tie-breaker.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Leadership in Seattle Public Schools

Many of us, including me, have been complaining about Raj's lack of leadership skills as Superintendent. Others, including the Seattle Times, have been complaining about the School Board's lack of leadership skills. Because I am, quite frankly, really tired of that discussion that seems to be getting us nowhere, I'd like to raise a different leadership issue today --- principals, and their leaderships skills or lack thereof.

I saw what happened at Graham Hill Elementary with constant principal turnover and a few very week principals. I've read and heard stories about weak principals at various schools around the district and the effect they are having on teaching and learning at the school. For example, after years of having a strong, talented principal, Kimball Elementary now has a principal who, faced with budget problems, left it up to a staff vote whether to increase class sizes or let go staff, who were named in the discussion. I'm all for participatory decision-making, but that strikes me as ludicrous and an abdication of leadership. You can guess how the vote came out.

There are many Seattle Public Schools principals with strong leadership skills who are doing wonderful, inspired work, and they should be celebrated, frequently and publicly. However, there are others who should not be allowed to continue as principals, being shuffled from school to school.

And the Seattle Public School culture, with its emphasis on secrecy and claiming that everyone is wonderful and doing a great job (see the 2005-06 Annual Superintendent Evaluation for a clear example of this) only adds to the problem. Principals are shuffled from one school to another with no explanation and little notice. Principals are put on leave, or take leave, with no details provided to the parents and staff.

For example, today in the Seattle Times is the following:

Whittier principal placed on leave

Parents at Whittier Elementary School in North Seattle learned late last week that the principal is on leave, but the Seattle School District won't say why. Alex Coberly, 33, has been the principal at the school since 2002. Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said Coberly was placed on paid leave beginning last Thursday. Wippel declined to explain, saying only that students have not been harmed. Wippel also wouldn't say whether Coberly's leave was tied to a particular incident, whether police are involved or whether anyone is investigating. A letter sent to Whittier parents said "we are not certain when [Coberly] will be returning." An interim principal is in place at the school now.

Parent Teacher Association Vice President Shawn Severin said she didn't know why Coberly was placed on leave, but, she said, "He is an upstanding guy that we support."

School Boards are Dysfunctional

Interesting op-ed in the Times today, Confessions of a Beleaguered School Board Member.

I had expected it to be from a Seattle School Board member and it's a guy on Vashon Island. He touches on concerns I hadn't really considered. I think there is some sub-text to it that I may be missing (he writes it somewhat like a confessional).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

John Marshall Alternative School

What is the truth about what is happening at John Marshall Alternative School?

The picture presented in today's Seattle Times article, One school's legacy: "There's no learning" is quite disturbing. However, during the school closure and consolidation process this past year, and in my recent class at UW's School of Education, I have met several teachers from John Marshall who seem extremely devoted to the students there and the incredibly difficult work they are doing.

If you know someone connected with John Marshall, either as a student, teacher, staff person or parent, please ask them to comment on this post.

The fate of the multiple programs at John Marshall is supposed to be decided this month. The students at John Marshall are the only ones in the district affected by the closure and consolidation vote who don't know where they will be next year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

KCTS program Sunday 5am

A KCTS CONNECTS LEARNING CURVE SPECIAL REPORT

Thursday, December 7, 2006, 7:00pm

Repeats Sunday, December 10th, at 5:00am

LEADING SEATTLE SCHOOLS

Learning Curve reporter, Jenny Cunningham talks with School Board President Brita Butler-Wall and Paul Hill, Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, about the growing concern with the leadership of Seattle Public Schools. A panel discussion on school district leadership features

Don Nielsen, former School Board President
Wendy Kimball, President of the Seattle Education Association.

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GIFTED KID – IT'S HARDER THAN YOU THINK

This segment includes a visit with a local family whose three children are all gifted. The family moved to the area from California because of the Accelerated Progress Program at Seattle's Lowell Elementary School; the program offers classes for students who perform within the top one percent on standardized tests. Interviews with the family members show how tough it is to find an academic and social fit for profoundly gifted children.

THE COLLEGE COMPETITION

How do you get your smart kid into a good school? That's the question on many a parents'
mind these days when even valedictorians are turned down at top universities. This segment features a live panel discussion with experts including:

Philip Ballinger, University of Washington Director of Admissions

Pauline Reiter, College Placement Consultants, a private firm in Bellevue that helps students get into good colleges.

Viewers will be invited to call the studio with their questions.

GIFTED STUDENTS – ARE THEIR NEEDS BEING MET?

Could federally mandated efforts to help all children succeed in public school actually be hurting smart kids? This segment includes a live panel discussion with:

Mike Riley, Superintendent of the Bellevue School District, which recently opened an academy for gifted students at Interlake High School

Kathleen Noble, professor and director of the University of Washington's Halbert and
Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars, which serves the needs of gifted young pre-college and college students;

Christina Chan, a U.W. senior pursuing a double major in economics and international studies, who came to the university through the Robinson Center's Academy for Young Scholars;

Nathan Weizenbaum, a U.W. sophomore who came to the university through the Robinson Center's early-entrance program.

Go to www.KCTS.org for more information and related links.

Friday, December 08, 2006

1+1=0 versus 1+1=3

It's unfortunate the most visible critics of Seattle Public Schools have been so negative about the extent of the crisis in our schools.

It's equally unfortunate that the leaders of the district have responded by exaggerating in the other direction. They are correct that there are many positives to cite regarding academics and finances. And, we appreciate that they are sticking up for the district. But, their leadership blunders have had a real cost even if they don't show up in the WASL averages or this year's budget. They can dismiss the Seattle Times and other critics, but they cannot dismiss the valid concerns of many parents, citizens, and staff who value attributes such as stability, vision, and community participation.

The message to the School Board and district leadership is simple: You cannot earn back our confidence without first acknowledging your mistakes. Only then can we take the next step of working together to make sure we don't repeat those mistakes.

NOT Moving to SeattlePublicSchools.blogspot.com

Two changes happened today. One is the move to a new version of the Blogger beta, which has created some technical hiccups for people, including the need for some people to create a Google account in order to post comments. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the new version of Blogger should be easier for me to manage, and hopefully eventually have more functionality.

Based on feedback, I decided NOT to move this blog to a different URL.

PI editorial: Changing Leaders

Another rational editorial from the PI, this time about finding a superintendent. Changing Leaders talks about this issue in the context of how Board members are elected. They also have a poll about how good a superintendent people think the Board will find. As of 11 AM Friday, it stands:
9.9 %- excellent
6.1% - good
34.1%-adequate, more or less
25%- poor
12.2%-disasterous
12.2%-don't know

An admittedly unscientific poll but at least the majority believe in adequate and above.

I wrote to another group this morning saying that if anyone has any suggestions for the Board on what is important in a Superintendent or how to help the process, now is the time to e-mail them. Also, if you know any candidates (Mike Rielly in Bellevue comes to mind), e-mail them as well. It is important to be help the process and not be a naysayer or obstructionist. I do worry about a lot of PC needling. My main suggestion to the Board is to talk through their entire plan before they outline it to the public (pros, cons, what could people say against it and what should the Board's response be) and Google candidates BEFORE you release their names to the media. You can learn a lot from what you read especially if you keep hearing the same phases over and over (like fights with teachers' union, arrogant, aloof). None of those things in and of themselves should eliminate a candidate (I don't care if the super is touch-feely) but if you get two or more of those lined up, beware.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Seattle Weekly Article

Nina Shapiro wrote an article, Schooling the District, about the proposed TAF (Technology Access Foundation) academy at Rainier Beach. Nina does a good job in giving voice to what TAF's perspective is. She highlights past problems with the New School Foundation and the mistrust it engendered coming into TT Minor. I am quoted (from this very blog!) as to what I saw and heard at the Rainier Beach Community Center meeting a couple of weeks ago on the TAF Academy.

What has happened since then is that new information is on the TAf website about the academy. I believe the district should probably have asked TAF not to write anything else about the academy because of the confusion/misunderstandings that could come out of it. What the website says is that TAF envisions RBHS ending as a comprehensive high school and that it would become another academy (them to be decided by staff and the district). They further state that they expect the district to find another "funding mechanism" to make sure that the two academies are funded equitably.

There are a lot of issues to these suggestions. One is simply, what is a comprehensive high school? I have a call into Luis Martinez, the Secondary School Director, to ask for a definition. What I understand is that it means not just core subjects but a wide compliment of other electives plus sports teams. (One problem I had heard for Center School was their lack of sports teams i.e. football, basketball, etc. This issue is huge for Rainier Beach because that is a central focus. Many of their students go to college on sports scholarships. However, I don't know if this is true.)

Second, I don't know what district TAF is thinking of but ours doesn't have huge pots of money sitting around to back up a school so it has funding parity with foundation-sponsored schools. You could find the money from grants but that's not on-going. It wouldn't be easy.

I think the issue here is autonomy. I think that TAF would be able to have more autonomy if RBHS didn't exist. Cleveland exists with 4 academies but they are all under one umbrella. Even though TAF and whatever academy RBHS evolved into would be in the SPS, I think TAF wants as much separation as possible.

Carla Santorno was supposed to have given a plan for community engagement on this subject at last night's Board meeting. I wasn't there. I'll e-mail Carla and see if I can see a copy.

Again, I will say that I believe the TAF Academy sounds great. But a lot of vetting needs to be done. The district needs to set up a policy about public/private partnerships (there is currently none). I had always thought that you set up these relationships to kick-start a program that the district doesn't have the money/expertise to handle. Or to provide something a school can't afford like tutoring. But we are in this position where whole schools are being created. Neither New School or the TAF Academy could exist without the money that these foundations put in. I think creating schools that aren't sustainable on their own is asking for trouble. New School can leave anytime they want at the end of a school year. They are committed until 2012 but the Memorandum of Understanding gives both the district and New School an out on a year-to-year basis. So we build New School a $65 M preK-8 building and they can leave at the end of 2012, leaving the district trying to sustain a program that the New School pumps $1.2M a year into? Is that really the best thing to do?

School Board Meeting Last Night

I was unable to attend the School Board meeting last night. I'd love to read comments from those of you did.

The Times and the PI had short articles about the School Board meeting:
School Board elects Chow president (PI) and
Chow picked to head Seattle School Board (Times)

Chow's election as School Board President is not a surprise, but I find it depressing. From Chow's recent quotes regarding the Mayor, to her distance from and lack of responsivenss to parents she serves, to her desire to have tightly controlled behavior during School Board meetings, I feel that Chow's election as School Board President signals change in the wrong direction.

Ted Van Dyk Column in Today's PI

Ted Van Dyk had a column in today's PI, The Search for Solutions Continues.

I wrote to Mr. Van Dyk explaining the following:
-he says that the 4 Board members up for election in the fall (should they run) should be replaced by "qualified, dedicated people". You can say a lot about those 4 but dedicated? They have worked very hard in their positions. Qualified? Brita has a PhD in education and 30 years experience in a classroom. What does he want? The voters looked at Irene, Sally and Darlene's qualifications and decided they were qualified. Oh, qualified means what the editorial boards and the Mayor want it to mean.
-he says that an appointed Board would be less politicized than an appointed one. Oh, you mean an appointed board appointed by an elected official? How does that make it less likely?
-He says that former Mayor Rice should "run for School Board chairman". There's School Board directors, there's a School Board President but no chairman.

I told him about myself and that I am one of the committed parents of this district. But I also said that my "qualifications" probably wouldn't get me a second look with the Mayor because I don't have an outside job, don't own a business, am not wealthy.

Last, and most important, he did a grave, deep disservice saying "Seattle's Iraq is the continuing morass of its public school system". Not to the district (he was just unkind there) but to the thousands of men and women serving (and dying) in Iraq RIGHT THIS MINUTE. Whether we agree on the war or not, those servicemen and women are doing this for us. And to flippantly compare our problems to their struggles is shameful.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mayor Nickels Endorses Levies

Mayor Nickels has added his name to the list of Endorsers of the Seattle School levies on the Schoolsfirst! web site. Still no endorsement from Norm Rice.

I found three former Board members' names on the list, but Michael DeBell is the only current Board member whose name appears. Raj Manhas has not added his name, nor have any of the district senior staff. If they do it from home, I don't think there is any prohibition against their coming out on political issues. In fact, the Board as voted to endorse votes in the past. There is a resolution in support of Initiative 884 on their web page.

Of the fifty-seven members of the Alliance for Education Board of Directors, only five have put their names on the list: Jon Bridge, John Warner, Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, and Greg Nickels, although the Alliance for Education is there as an organization. How do you vote to endorse the levies as a group but not take forty-five seconds to do so as an individual?

CPPS and Charles Rolland are there.

There are no names from the editorial boards of the Seattle Times or the Seattl Post-Intelligencer.

I know it is early, but I would expect the areas educational LEADERS to be out in the lead. I would think that this would include adding your name to the list of those endorsing the levies.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today's editorial in Times

The Times has yet another Sunday editorial about Seattle schools, Closing Seattle's Gap through Innovation .

It's actually kind of funny in its ignorance. It states this:
"So what to do about this nagging dilemma? Turns out, according to Seattle's CAO Carla Santorno, eveything educators need to know about closing the gap they already know. At Montlake, Maple, Van Asselt and Loyal elementary schools and a K-8 called The New School, the gap has narrowed or been eliminated."

Okay, Montlake is a small, white, relatively well-off school. They have paid for tutoring for every student who needs it. They have no achievement gap; good for them! Van Asselt is trying teaching to the top, with great results, but have had to put major money from the budget into tutoring (so something in their budget probably had to go). I don't even know what Loyal is; might be Loyal Heights but I don't recall it having stellar WASL scores. And the New School? It's about a 1/3 privately funded by The New School Foundation with kids getting a "whole student" approach with yoga and health care and tutoring. Yes, indeed, kids can do better if all their needs are met but where's the money? (Sadly, I already had a letter printed in today's Times or I would write and call them on this.)

Everything educators need to know? Not even close. There are things they suspect will help (more parental involvement and less tv/video), smaller classes with good teachers and tutoring for kids who need it. But do they have a slam dunk on the methodology? I don't think so.

And they end with their usual slam against the district/Board that the district doesn't get innovation and in specific, why aren't they supporting the TAF Academy.

On a related note, I attended the joint City Council/School Board meeting on Friday. I had wanted to speak to them about BEX III (note to self; at City Council meetings, you only get 2 minutes). They were to discuss SPS WASL scores and get a briefing on Washington Learns. I could only stay for the WASL discussion which was very good. (The Council members in attendance were Jean Godden, Peter Steinbruck, David Della, Richard Conlin and Sally Clark. Board members were Michael DeBell, Brita, Cheryl Chow and Irene Stewart.)

The district had a really good person, Ramona Pierson, who gave the overview and answered questions. She had great handout. The main point, that Raj said they needed to get out, is that the district is making steady progress and, as Danny Westneat pointed out, is doing better than many other local districts.

Raj went over the math strategy; adopting a new middle school curriculum, looking to the state for whatever math curriculum they decide on, the Pathways program for struggling students, and training teachers better. They explained about retaining 1300 sophomores as freshman. It turns out that only 500 ended up retained. Those students ended up in Pathways with evening classes, double math classes and, usually, no electives because of the need to get the math done.

Ms. Pierson was candid in her view about the math WASL scores in Seattle. One councilperson asked about the large difference between 4th and 7th grade versus the smaller change between 7th and 10th. She said she thought it was more about the test itself than anything in how it is being taught. (This is a great question. Are Washington state/Seattle kids really that bad at math? Is it teaching? Or could it be the test?)

There was some discussion about class size. Ramona said yes, those schools with smaller class sizes did do beter. Peter Steinbruck chimed in that he had helped out in his son's 5th grade class for a writing exercise and said the teacher really needed the help at a class size of about 28. The point was made that it is much more the student/teacher ratio than class size. Apparently Mercer Island has small class sizes and, when they get larger, they bring in someone else. I think if the district can't do smaller class sizes if we got more state funding we could have, maybe, two teachers' aides per school who go to classes during specific times (say, writing or math) to get that ratio down and more help to kids who struggle. Counting on parents to come in isn't reliable or realistic.