Friday, January 12, 2007

Superintendent Decider

I want to share this with you. Most folks won’t care about the actual issue at stake – it’s about middle school APP – but I want you all to check out the ambition it reflects.

The program placement committee recommended and the Superintendent approved splitting middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton starting in 2008-2009. Never mind if this is a good idea or a bad idea; there just happens to be a District Policy, D12.00, that prohibits creating any more APP sites.

I raised this issue – I’ll spare you the little drama over getting a response – and learned that District staff says that two subsequent policies superseded D12.00. These two were F21.00 and B61.00.

F21.00 is about which decisions are made at the District level and which are site-based decisions. It is three pages long and has only this to say about program placement:
“The Superintendent makes the final decision on all program placements.” The District staff interpreted this to mean that the Superintendent’s decisions on program placement cannot be constrained by Board policy.

First of all, this interpretation is dead wrong. Policy F21.00 begins with the words:

“Within the laws of the United States and the State of Washington and the policies of the Board, and District guidelines, the following areas (listed alphabetically) are reserved to the School Board and/or Superintendent or their designee:”

So while the Policy does say that the Superintendent makes the final decision on all program placements, those decisions - according to the Policy - must be within the policies of the Board. Thepolicy does not grant the Superintendent carte blanche to decide any matter within his authority capriciously or without constraint.

The Superintendent makes the final decision on a number of things, such as student discipline. Are his decisions in these matters unconstrained by District Policy? Is he free to punish students in whatever manner he chooses regardless of Policy? I think not.

It is good that Policy F21.00 restricts the decisions of the Superintendent to the boundaries of District policies - which it most certainly does. I cannot emphasize enough how extremely dangerous it is for the staff to suggest otherwise. Such a perspective would surrender the Board's authority to set policy on any area of the Superintendent's responsibility. In addition to D12.00, nearly all other Policies would be meaningless as well. It would create a Superintendent as the one and only "decider" without any constraints on his authority at all.

I know we're looking for a governance model, but I can't imagine this is the one we want. I don't think that Superintenent Decider with unchecked absolute authority is the District governance model that the CACIEE had in mind. Isn't it weird that the Superintendent and the District staff are trying to claim this authority?

17 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

It's not weird to me. I think the Board really defers to the staff way too much. Part of that is because the Board has no research staff (they have administrative staff but they have their hands full) and can't really do in-depth research. Also, if you've ever had conversations with staff about issues, mostly it's a wave of the hand, "no,that's not right (or possible). You misunderstood, misheard, don't have all the facts, etc."

Another part is just the Board's faith in the staff which isn't a bad thing but when it's a lot more deference than faith, then it's a bad thing.

I know many staff and they are hard-working, kind, mostly helpful (when you aren't questioning their work or motives)and care deeply about the district.

One thing I noted in the minutes of the BEX II oversight committee was a comment by a committee member who is not staff that everything needed to be clearly stated so that anyone in the future looking to understand their thinking or their process would see it reflected clearly in the minutes. That should apply to everything they do (with the exception of some personnel decisions where union/privacy rights apply). But that is the frustration; that you never know with any certainty how a decision was reached, how much information the Board had before they voted or even if there is recognizable paper trail.

Anonymous said...

It is not a surprise. The legal profession trains for this kind of thinking. When lawyers, bankers and others have an unusual degree of influence in a school district this kind of outcome is not unexpected. This is not a condemnation of personal character, it is an observation of organizational culture. If you want to change the outcome, the culture needs to change. That will begin by changing the kind of training we expect of the people who run SPS. For too long a belief has prospered that "professionals" from outside of education could best manage the district. It is a false belief and one that results in outcomes like this.

Beth Bakeman said...

It's not weird to me, either, but it is disappointing. I don't want a School Board that tries to micro-manage. But I do want a School Board that enforces the policy it creates.

We need to hire superintendent with strong leadership and political skills who can change the district administration's culture. But we also need School Board members who provide effective oversight.

Anonymous said...

This is not a failure of the board, per se. This is a failure of the central administration.

We also need people in charge of SPS who are familiar with the form of governance that schools operate under and the kinds of policies they work with. There is nothing in the business world that is similar. Perhaps we could expect more of the board, but frankly- it is the educators who should know better and should be providing leadership to the board. You can't expect a system of novice educators (the board) to govern a system properly unless the people on the inside understand, communicate and play within the rules they are supposed to operate under. This is the way that it works in most districts. This is not the way in works in SPS...because you have non educators trying to lead an educational system- a culture that they are fully ignorant of and condescending towards (given their training).

Anonymous said...

The Moss-Adams report (the financial review done after the $35M mismanagement) said as much about the organization that is the district. After Moss-Adams laid out all the physical things that should be done like various oversight measures, procedures, etc., they ended by saying that nothing can ever really change in a bureaucracy unless the there is a culture shift within it. That's the problem; nothing ever changed, not really, in the way staff thinks about how they work.

Anonymous said...

I read D12.00 and it does not prevent adding new AP Program cites, it allows new for new cites if the enrollment in the "self-contained" AP Programs grow. Haven't the AP Programs grown beyond what they were in 1993? Even if the you read the policy they way you do, and you ignore the other policies, doesn't it seem a little bit ridiculous to artifically keep the AP programs in a time-warp?

Anonymous said...

"The legal profession trains for this kind of thinking. When lawyers, bankers and others have an unusual degree of influence in a school district this kind of outcome is not unexpected."

I am guessing that the lawyer commentary is probably being directed at Mark Green, and obviously the banker is Raj.

Pre-Sanford, when the Sups were predominately educators, the worst kept secret in town was that the District's lawyer, Mike Hogue, really ran the District.

So, I think any real change in "organizational culture" will have to come from a change in the Board. At some point, the people of Seattle will have to stop voting for School Board members as a reactionary vote, and start voting for folks who have real experience in education and/or public management. The solution is a quality board who knows what thier role is, who in turn hires a Sup who is entrusted to run the district on a day to day basis.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the poster who commented that the bureaucracy called a school district is unlike any other.

Too many masters; too little expertise; it is the same everywhere you go.

Time warp or not, decisions/rules should be followed or changed. That maintains the integrity of the system.

Communication continues to be the flaw in the District's image and operations. Perhaps they simply need a superintendent who can listen and communicate honestly and clearly.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Folks, please get this if you get nothing else; AP is NOT APP or vice versa.

AP stands for Advanced Placement which is a national group of college-level tests in various subjects given to high school students. By taking the tests (you don't have to had taken an AP class to take an AP test but it is very hard to pass if you haven't). You can receive college credit for a certain pass on an AP test (it ranges from 1-5) and it can be good preparation for college courses. It also looks good on your college applications. The number of AP courses offered in Seattle high schools varies from school to school (with Garfield and Roosevelt haveing the most). It also varies from school to school how you can get in. Some schools say anyone can just register to get in, others put restrictions on who can get in. Some schools require you take the AP test to take the AP course (which is unfair because it costs about $50 to take a test and most schools don't necessarily pay for low-income students to take it.) You DO NOT have to have been in the APP program to take an AP course/test.

APP stands for Accelerated Progress Program and is a district program for students who test in the top 1-2% (I forget which it is now) on an exam. It is open to anyone, a parent OR a teacher can nominate a student. It serves students 1-5 at Lowell, 6-8 at Washington Middle (soon, apparently, at Hamilton as well) and there is no APP in high school although large numbers of them go to Garfield and Roosevelt. The district loves to act like they have a gifted program for high school students but there isn't one.

I have begged and scolded the district for not changing the name APP since it is so often mixed up with AP. But I get a shrug. But the amount of misunderstanding and confusion over these two programs seems to warrent changing the APP name.

Anonymous said...

APP stands for Accelerated Progress Program and is a district program for students who test in the top 1-2% (I forget which it is now) on an exam. It is open to anyone, a parent OR a teacher can nominate a student. It serves students 1-5 at Lowell, 6-8 at Washington Middle (soon, apparently, at Hamilton as well) and there is no APP in high school although large numbers of them go to Garfield and Roosevelt. The district loves to act like they have a gifted program for high school students but there isn't one.

I have begged and scolded the district for not changing the name APP since it is so often mixed up with AP. But I get a shrug. But the amount of misunderstanding and confusion over these two programs seems to warrent changing the APP name.


I TA Melissa.
While APP students from Washington, have priority over neighborhood students to be assigned to Garfield, and despite that many students are looking to attend schools and meet a different population than the same kids they have known since 1st gd at Lowell, the district does act like APP = AP, to the point of listing APP under Advanced Programs at Garfield in the new enrollment guide.

AP classes can be taken by anyone, generally, especially at Garfield, you only need a commitment to do the work for a teacher to agree to have you in the class. Kids who don't have all the AP courses they might want to take, have also done self study and taken the AP tests quite successfully without taking the class.

Additionally, I don't think that much of some of the AP courses that the College board designs. The private schools don't generally offer AP courses, preferring to go deeper into the subject, rather than to cram everything in that might be covered on an AP exam. ( which incidentally is $80 a pop, leaving out many students who might be interested in taking a higher level course, but can't afford the required test for the class)

Ironically, the students who may be most interested in taking a supposedly college level course in high school like AP, will often find that the colleges they are then interested in attending after high school, often don't give credit for those AP tests, or offer limited credit- expecting the students to still take that course in college.

http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/daily/
2006/02/17-ap.html

survey of 18,000 college students enrolled in introductory biology, chemistry, and physics has found little evidence that high school Advanced Placement (AP) courses significantly boost college performance in the sciences. The study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Virginia (UVA) found the best predictors of success in college science courses to be high school classes that foster mathematical fluency, value depth over breadth, and feature certain types of laboratory work.

Charlie Mas said...

I believe the point that Melissa was trying to make was that AP is a national program of high school classes followed by tests and APP is a district program for students in grades 1-12. At the high school level, there are no specific APP classes as there are in grades 1-8.

People often confuse these two programs and they should be careful to refer to each of them by their correct name to avoid further confusion.

As to the interpretation of D12.00, it says:

"The number of self-contained program sites shall not expand beyond the 1993-94 levels. Subject to Board review, in the event of substantial District wide enrollment growth, suchprogram sites shall be distributed geographically and among clusters to provide equitableopportunities for program access."

So sites can be added if two conditions are met:

1) Board review. This hasn't happened and the District staff claim that the Board should not have a role

2) subtantial District wide enrollment growth. This hasn't happened either. In fact, district wide enrollment is down so much that we have to close schools. The policy clearly says "District wide" enrollment, not program enrollment. If they had meant program enrollment, they would have written that. If "district wide enrollment" had meant program enrollment, then what words would have meant District wide enrollment?

As to why self-contained APP should be kept to just two buildings, I can't say. Maybe it was to prevent the program from being distributed into meaninglessness. Maybe it was to keep the program from growing. Maybe it was so some other reason. Whatever the reason, the Board obviously felt it was so important that it had to be written into District Policy

Anonymous said...

Perhaps there was an assumption that the APP program, which is supposed to be the top 1% of the student population, would grow proportionally with the district. If the district grew, so would the APP program, if it shrank, so would APP. However, especially at the middle school level, but also at Lowell, there is so much private testing and appeal, that while the overall population of the SPS district has fallen, Washington APP, and Lowell as well, are bursting at the seams.

I know far more kids who privately test in to APP than those who test in through the district. This requires tremendous saavy and money on the part of the parents to jump through many hoops in the 10 day appeal period the district allows. No one can fault families for searching for the best program for their kids, but to hold the district to a 93/94 capacity policy when the APP population has changed with the times is not realistic.

Rather than spending huge amounts of money to create another APP program at Hamilton and another to accomodate the burgeoning population at Lowell, perhaps the district would be wise to invest in appropriate accelerated learning for all of its students so families are not desperate to move their bright child to a program that is intended for profoundly gifted children.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would have no problem with the last person's suggestion if the district had a cohesive accelerated learning program. They don't. Spectrum programs and ALO (advanced learning opportunties) programs are different at every single school. You have to be a detective to figure out what you are getting and it's ridiculous. There's no way of really telling what works or doesn't work.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm sorry to have to do this, but it is necessary to correct misinformation when it is put forward to prevent the spread of misinformation.

"the APP program, which is supposed to be the top 1% of the student population"

To qualify for APP, a student needs to be in the top 2% nationally in cognitive ability in two out of three areas: verbal, non-verbal, or numberic, and in the top 5% nationally in academic achievement in math and reading. These are nationally measures, not local ones. Given the high correlation between affluence and academic achievement, the number of APP students can be reasonably expected to rise with Seattle's rising affluence.

"there is so much private testing and appeal, that while the overall population of the SPS district has fallen, Washington APP, and Lowell as well, are bursting at the seams."

It isn't private testing that is causing APP to grow. The share of students tested who are found eligible for the program has remained very stable at about 9 or 10%. The number of students tested has increased gradually. Any person can refer any student for testing. There are no pre-requisite recommendations or test scores. The real source of the program's growth is increased participation. Historically only 50% of students found eligible for APP have enrolled in the program. Of late, that number has grown to 80%. There are a number of factors causing increased participation. They include:

* The growing loss of confidence in neighborhood schools to serve the needs of advanced learners.

* The growing loss of confidence in Spectrum programs in some areas.

* The overcrowding of Spectrum programs in some areas.

* The growing recognition that APP boosts achievement for eligible students who participate.

* The growing recognition of the social and emotional benefits of self-contained classrooms.

* Reduced resistance to school bus trips.

Anonymous many "know far more kids who privately test in to APP than those who test in through the district." but the vast majority of APP-elgible students, over 95% of them, are found eligible without any appeals using private test results.

Anonymous wrote that "to hold the district to a 93/94 capacity policy when the APP population has changed with the times is not realistic."

Actually, it's not that big a deal. The middle school APP cohort is about 450 students. Washington is about 200-250 students over capacity, as it has been for years. The change has not been dramatic.

Anonymous wrote about "spending huge amounts of money to create another APP program at Hamilton and another to accomodate the burgeoning population at Lowell"

There is no reason to believe that adding APP at Hamilton will cost anything. In fact, it is viewed as a cost savings. APP classes cost no more than general education classes. In fact, since they are typically at the contract maximum, they cost less. The cost, if any, would be for professional development for teachers. Since the teachers were going to get professional development anyway, this just changes the classes they will take - not the cost. Since there are no classes on gifted ed available at local colleges, the District gives the training in house. The creation of an additional site would provide savings from slightly reduced transportation costs. Of course, those savings would be reduced by the cost of providing Integrated III math clases for very small classes.


It would be nice if the District were capable of "appropriate accelerated learning for all of its students" but it's not. Standards-based learning systems can never adequately support students working beyond Standards. The Standards, intended in theory as a floor, function in practice as a ceiling. Nearly every family with a student in Spectrum or APP could tell stories about how teachers and schools specifically refused to meet their children's academic need for appropriately challenging work.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Locating APP at Hamilton does have one cost (but how to cost it out is another issue). That cost is seats. If they have to set aside seats for APP kids that then crowds out other students, notably kids from that region (unless APP kids are going to be assigned by where they live).

The only area that middle school growth may occur in our district is in the NE and the pressure on Eckstein has to stop. It was expected that by renovating Hamilton there would be more seats available for students in that area but I doubt that can happen if Hamilton takes on APP students.

I assign no blame one way or the other; it's just how things will play out.

Anonymous said...

There are many APP elligable middle school student who live in the North end who choose not to go to Washington. I doubt that putting a new cite in at Hamilton will have the a dramatic effect, particularly if BEX III passed and Hamilton is rebuild out as planned. Also, if the new assignment plan is more nieghborhood, less choice, then what would really be happening is that the APP kids who now travel south to Washington would be going to school closer to home, like everyone else. The real north end seat problem is that the empty seats at Summit and AS #1 skew the open North end numbers for elementary and 6-8 seats.

Charlie Mas said...

I recognize that we've drifted from the original topic, but I just have to write this.

APP is a 1-12 program. That's how the community views it. It is a 1-12 program located at Lowell, Washington, and Garfield.

I fear that the District views it differently. They seem to view it as a 1-5 program at Lowell, a 6-8 program at Washington, and a 9-12 program at Garfield.

Consider this: What if the District said that half of the students at Summit - just half of them - had to attend Meany Middle School for grades 6-8. How would that suggestion strike you? Would you think it strange? Would you think it was potentially damaging to the Summit community? Would you presume that the Summit students at Meany would have an experience similar to that of the Summit students at Jane Addams? Or would you think "That's great! Now the Summit students who live in the south end will have a shorter commute to school for grades 6-8!"

This proposal - to have half of the APP students go to a different middle school - strikes a lot of APP families who view APP as a 1-12 program.