Tuesday, January 09, 2007

School Transformation Plans

Okay, this is a weird thing that just goes to show how an issue can hop around.

Each year, the schools with Advanced Learning programs, APP, Spectrum or an ALO, are supposed to complete a program certfication process to demostrate that the Advanced Learning program meets District Standards. These started just a couple years ago. Originally they were called accreditation and involved the principal, teachers, and community members. They included a detailed self-assessment. An inspection team went to the school and did on-site inspections and interviews. The end result was a report that accurately described the program at each school, its strengths and its areas for improvement. Today, however, the certifications are a sham - every program that requests certification gets it, regardless of how good or bad the program is. They are all certified whether they even apply for certfication or not. They all get certified whether they even have a program or not. There isn't any paperwork at all anymore. The certification process, intended as rigorous and meaningful, has been quietly smothered and stuffed into a closet.

Just the same, as I was working to expose these certifications for the sham that they are, I decided to take a look at the School Transformation Plans for some of the Spectrum schools to see if they included a reference to the program. As luck would have it, the Board voted on November 15, 2006 to approve all of the School Transformation plans. The Board has to vote to approve them because these Transformation Plans also fulfill the role of some report required by state law (WAC 180-16-220). Anything the Board votes on is included in the online Board agenda with all of these hypertext links to all of the supporting documentation. As part of meeting the goals of accountability, transparency, and connecting the community with the district, the Seattle School Board is pleased to provide on-line access to all parts of the agenda for the legislative meetings of the board. Sure enough, there was a hypertext link to the School Transformation Plans associated with this vote on November 15. Unfortunately, the link was to a web page on the District's inside, password protected, web site. This is the site for District staff only. I couldn't access them.

So I wrote to the Board office and pointed this out. I asked if the School Transformation Plans could be moved to the public web site where they would be accessible. Frankly, these documents should be publicly available even if the Board were not voting on them. This request got kicked around a bit and then came back to me. They were going to try to move the plans to the public side, but were there any specific plans that I was interested in reading right away? I requested the plans for Hamilton, High Point, Lawton, Wing Luke and Washington. They sent me Washington and Wing Luke. I got the previous year's plan for Hamilton. No plan was available for High Point or Lawton.

The absence of a plan for High Point and Lawton, and the absence of a current plan for Hamilton was a little troubling. Didn't the Board just vote to approve all of these plans? How could the Board vote to approve them if they didn't exist? If they did exist, then why couldn't someone just download them, attatch them to an email, and send them to me? That's how I got the other three.

It was also troubling because these plans are required by state law. So I checked out the law that these plans were supposed to fulfill. This pointed up another problem; the plans did not fulfill all of the requirements of the state law. The law requires the reports to be data driven, to promote a positive impact on student learning by supporting goal of basic education, promoting continuous improvement in student achievement towards EALRs, or recognizing non-academic student learning and growth, i.e. Public speaking, leadership, interpersonal relationship skills, teamwork, self-confidence, and resiliency. The law requires the plans to include a continuous improvement process for monitoring, adjusting, and updating the plan and for the plans to be based on a self-review including active participation and input by building staff, students, families, parents, and community members. The plans must address characteristics of successful schools, address educational equity factors, address the use of technology to facilitate instruction, and address parent, family and community involvement. While the School Transformation Plans did meet many of these requirements, none of the ones I could see met them all. The plans that didn't exist certainly weren't meeting any of the requirements.

Here's a thorny idea: the District is supposed to have these reports for each building in order to get the state basic education funding - no report; no funding.

This is why it is a bad idea to turn over rocks at Seattle Public Schools. Dig into a little problem and you will find a bigger one. Dig into that one and you get an even bigger one. I initially requested these plans in November. They should have been on the web site. A couple days ago I got an email from the Chief Academic Officer apologizing for the delay and saying that she will get those plans to me. Still no plans. Today I called and asked if I could just go down to the headquarters and pick them up. They couldn't say. I may need a public records request to get the school transformation plans that the Board purportedly approved on November 15.

4 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie well knows the time and effort I have had to spend trying to see the minutes of various committee meetings (all public meetings)surrounding BEX II and a couple of schools on that list. After I gave up on getting to read all of them, I went on and wrote my report on the BEX III list. (BEX stands for Building Excellence and it's the school renovation/construction capital arm in the district.)

Then, yesterday, as if by magic, they appeared on the district website (I received a polite e-mail from one of the district's lawyers giving me a heads up). It's more interesting reading as one school got started on its project BEFORE the official BEX II Oversight Committee came into being. Now that's initiative. And oddly, the BEX II committee didn't convene until more than 2 years after the election.

Charlie is right about digging; it doesn't make a bigger hole, you just find more rocks.

Anonymous said...

Leslie here

I have yet to figure out or remember my password - my apologies -

The Website - I too asked for the location on the website of the transformation plans and committee meeting minutes and was advised not very artfully that there is not enough "room" or space. Last I looked "space" is inexpensive.

Having said so to Boardmembers, staff and others previously and consistently, I find the website organization and lack of uploading difficult to understand the reasons for and to use at best (the update even more so). I was invited to make public disclosure requests for them. This is insulting at best and illegal at worst. The comments when pointing this out are patronizing and less than plausible.

The lack of MOUs on the site are another issue that prevents folks from research.

Last and apologies in advance for snarky tone - Have you noticed if you "quote" public documents published on the web in your research and advocacy as we did in the Closure and Consolidation process for Pathfinder, said same webpages magically disappeared shortly thereafter?

I am starting to believe in Charlie's cultural inadequacy theories more and more and hope that the new leadership will throw up open the windows to shed light.

Anonymous said...

I'm a teacher. I don't even know about some of the plans you are talking about.

But, I have to say that some of what is itemized in Charlie's post is just plain ridiculous! There is not enough time in anyone's day to accomplish all the detailed recordkeeping or even plans that address all the things that are, apparently, supposed to be there.

I think the District is dishonest and both administration and the board should honestly make available whatever they say they will. Transparency is a must.

But, please, let's fire all the bean counters that sit in offices thinking up all these buzzwords and plans that are unachievable and put the money toward smaller classrooms, better teachers (meaning a little more pay) and then mandating that schools achieve or have consequences - tbd.

The District is too big to manage. It is promising too much to too many.

As for the Spectrum fiasco, do you really think these people are not trying? Don't you think they are aware when the plans fail? It is an impossible task. Teaching is not a scripted endeavor. Good teaching is as creative as it is intellectual. The key is always to find good teachers and principals who can lead. Then let them teach and lead. And all Spectrum classes are not equal.

Oh, we have problems for sure. Communication is a big one. Our District is too big. Teachers are worn out with the politics and the plans. We haven't had a consistent and single math program for years. Things keep changing. Priorities keep changing.

And parents can't even agree on what they want for our schools. Ever watched the board meetings? I know you all have . . .probably been there.

I think, Charlie, you need to leave the ivory tower mentality and start trying to think more simply. What can work without extraordinary effort? Let's look to simplify rather than create more complexity. We've all had enough plans, standards, expectations, ealers, and programs that keep getting revised, realigned and rewritten until we've no longer the energy to actually teach. Which, by the way, takes an awful lot of energy.

No teacher I know is sitting at a desk (because they either don't have enough to do on their own job or don't have to work to begin with) trying to figure out how to make other people's job better, worse, different . . . most of us on our feet doing our jobs.

These thoughts are the ponderous meanderings of a creative, energetic, caring teacher who wants all kids to learn and less people sitting in ivory towers thinking of ways to hold everybody else accountable . . .

BTW, did I say the District is too big? And administration is too bloated? :)

Charlie Mas said...

Hey, I didn't demand the elements in the School Transformation Plans, the State did. And I didn't write the plans missing those elements, the schools did. And I'm not the one who skipped doing the plans entirely, some schools apparently did that. And I'm not the one who promised that those plans were done, that was Carla Santorno. I'm not the the one who attested to the state that the plans were done and complete, that was the Board. I didn't design the Advanced Learning program certification, Colleen Stump did that. I'm not the one who reports programs as certified regardless of what is happening in them, Colleen Stump did that as well.

Look, I'm not in any ivory tower; I'm out here on the street. If the expectations are too high, then the all the people responsible need to do is step forward and acknowledge that there's too much work and that these tasks have such a low priority that they aren't going to get done. Instead, they pretend that the work was done and report that the work was done when the work wasn't really done. You don't have to be in an ivory tower to find that dishonest and say so.

This is really simple. The schools were supposed to do the work of preparing these plans - it's state law. It appears that some of them didn't do it at all and that most of them didn't do all of it. True or false? The Chief Academic Officer attested to the Board that the work was done and was done to standard when it appears that it was not. True or false? The Board voted to approve the work without apparently reviewing it. True or false?

All I did was discover it and report it. So how am I the ridiculous character in this drama? I didn't claim to have done anything that I didn't do - is that the ivory tower perspective?