Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Seattle Times story on Madrona

A story on the front page of today's (3/28/2007) Seattle Times tells of tension between the administration at Madrona K-8 and some of the neighborhood families, particularly White affluent families who say that they didn't feel welcome at the school and their children were not appropriately served there.

To me, this story represents, in microcosm, what is happening throughout Seattle Public Schools. The District has put a great focus on serving underperforming minority students living in poverty. Unfortunately, they have, as usual, been clumsy in their communication - both internal and external. As a result, they have inadvertently given the signal that they are not interested in serving any other students. People have received that inadvertent sign and responded by taking their children either out of the neighborhood school or completely out of the district.

Some of you might think that the message "We are not interested in serving your White affluent child working at or above grade level" is intentional, but I am not ready to arrive at that conclusion. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this.

Here are some facts:
Seattle and the Seattle Public Schools contrast demographically. Seattle is 70% White; Seattle Public Schools is 40% White. Seattle is an extremely affluent city where the median household income in 2001 was $70,000; over 40% of Seattle Public School students qualify for free or reduced price lunch. Seattle is one of the most educated cities in the country where 89.5% of adults are high school graduates and 47.2% have college degrees; only 61-65% of Seattle Public School students graduate high school.

I think that the District is absolutely right to focus attention on the needs of underperforming minority students living in poverty. I just have three problems with the way they are doing it.

  1. They talk about it a lot, but they don't seem to know how or what to do. For at least the past six years (perhaps longer), the District has said that their number one goal and priority is to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to standard. Yet they have not introduced any plan of action for achieving that goal. That's either crazy or horribly disingenuous. How can you say "This is my number one goal" and then take no action to achieve it?

    The District has very few models of success, none of which come from the District level initiatives, and the District doesn't duplicate those practices when they appear. Look at what is happening at Maple and at Van Asselt. Those schools have proven success, yet those successful efforts are strictly limited to those schools. The District has not made any effort (that I am aware of) to duplicate the strategies, work and results from these schools at others. Instead, the District provides initiatives such as cultural competency, which has not proven effective, and courageous conversations, which have not proven effective. The most recent effort from the District is Flight Schools; only time will tell if that effort will prove effective. The District inititiatives, including the Flight Schools initiative, always focus on educating the teacher instead of educating the students. They have coaches - for the teachers. They have additional training - for the teachers. Where are the coaches and additional training for the students?

    The District appears to allow schools which have not proven effective to continue along their current path. It feels like neglect. What changes, if any, has the District demanded at schools which are habitually failing to meet AYP? The law requires the school to write an Improvement Plan, but does the District really provide any oversight or extra resources that will make a difference?
  2. The District very clearly sends the message that they are not interested in serving high performing students or White students or affluent students. That message comes though clearly and frequently. They actually appear angry at these folks and contempuous of them. This is three kinds of bad. First, it is bad because the District should serve EVERY student. Usually when people talk about serving EVERY student it is code for serving underperforming minority students living in poverty. They need to make it mean EVERY student. To do otherwise is immoral. Second, it is bad because they are not serving the community as they find it. They are failing to serve the actual population of Seattle. This is simply a government entity failing to meet the needs of their community. Third, it is bad because these are good people to have in the public school system. Their children bring in just as much revenue from the State as any other child but they are actually less expensive to educate. The families bring additional resources to the District: money, volunteers, political support, and expertise. This isn't unique to Madrona; the District is driving away their most desirable customers all over the city.
  3. The District's stated commitment to serving underperforming minority students living in poverty has created a culture in which this effort is glorified. So much so, that the culture actually encourages this model and the associated behaviors. They claim to support parental involvement, but only from the right families. If you're White, then your involvement is a manifestation of White privilege and therefore comtemptible. They claim to want volunteers, but they only from the right families. If you're White, then your free time to volunteer in the classroom is a a manifestation of White privilege and therefore comtemptible. I'm not saying that they WANT children to fail academically, but they sure seem to relish wearing the hairshirt of being an urban district with low achievement. Am I the only one getting that vibe? Am I the only one who has heard District personnel say, sometimes unabashedly "I'm sorry that we don't have the time and resources to support your child's continued success, but we have children here who are failing and we need to give them all of our time and attention first."

    The District's distorted vision of equity puts ceilings on student achievement. It's like some Soviet era idea - only instead of "No person should have two cows until every person has one cow." it is "No student should learn multiplication until every student has learned addition." At Madrona that means that none of the kids can have music and art because some of them need more time on task with math and reading. Where is the effort to differentiate instruction? Where is the commitment to teach each student at the frontier of their knowledge and skills? The focus on bringing every student up to the Standard has resulted in no support for students working beyond Standards. The Standards, intended in theory as a floor, have become, in practice, a ceiling.

Maybe I'm seeing all of this from a narrow perspective. I would really like to hear from other perspectives.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Fascinating - all in one school, too.

What I did find disturbing in the article was this passage:

"The sense of rejection some were feeling was confirmed by an e-mail sent to a parent that appeared to come from vice principal Brad Brown. It admitted that the school intentionally misassessed a white student's reading skills to rid the school of his family and others critical of the administration, then bade them a "wonderful educational experience aboard the Mayflower."

Brown and Andrews have vehemently denied sending the e-mail, saying those are not their sentiments and they're unsure just how the e-mail got sent. Andrews said the school also apologized to the family."

Someone must had access to the vice-principal's account and had his password. That's a real lack of security to student information if that's what happened. If what happened is that he got exasperated (for whatever reason) with the family and sent that e-mail, that too is a problem.

Charlie did say it well and, I believe, truthfully. I think that we have gotten so caught up in teacher professional development that the kids are left waiting.

For example, there are 4 high schools that were part of a DOE grant to create smaller learning communities. Each of these schools, as part of the grant requirements, had to take time out the schedule to meet and organize, exchange ideas, info, etc. Great except that it means somewhere between 10-20 2-hr late start days a year. That might not sound like much but when you add in weather days, holidays, vacations and early release days, my son has been in, maybe, 2 full weeks of school since the year started. High school kids actually have to have a certain number of seat hours to get high school credits and some of these schools had to get waivers because they were not meeting state hour requirements.

What I have experienced from this as well as my other son's high school is that it feels like our kids aren't get the best of their teachers because the teachers have to plan and organize so much. Maybe when these plans get further down the line perhaps they might need less time but for now, they want to keep the late-starts even though the grant has ended. (I note that Eckstein has some late starts - does anyone else know of other schools that take late-starts for professional development?)

I did meet the principal at Madrona and she was a very caring, hands-on principal. I'm sure she feels caught between two places but it is her job (and the district's) to bridge that gap and keep kids in public schools.

Charlie Mas said...

I don't know if I have done it on this blog, but I know that I have written in the past and exploded the myth of "The school would be good if you would just send your children to it." and the myth of the crusading cadre of co-op preschool moms who come into the school determined to improve it.

These myths have no basis in reality. The reality is what we see at Madrona.

Here were my favorite two bits of the article:

"Some parents, even before their own children were old enough for Madrona, had tried to improve the school. That left some parents with children already at the school bristling at the suggestion that somehow it wasn't good enough."

matched with:

"In the fall, two years after Andrews came to Madrona, nine families with those or other concerns followed him out of the school, withdrawing 11 students in all.

They were allowed to transfer under a federal law that requires the district to offer them a choice of other Seattle schools because so few of Madrona's fourth-graders passed the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) last year.

People bristle at the implication that their school could be improved, while the school is operating under a state-mandated School Improvement Plan. That's funny.

Anonymous said...

*sigh* How are the kids supposed to work these issues out, when the adults can't manage to? I wonder how it looks from the children's point of view.

jpr said...

regarding the email sent from the Vice Principal (allegedy sent) who would be that simple minded to actually admit to misassessing a students reading score? Email is eaisly spoofed, so i would not put much weight on an email unless one could show me the complete supporting SMTP address from which the email came, all that information is available in the header of the message.
What is disturbing, to have parents willing to participate and try making the school better but only to be set aside as if they were not needed.

amy said...

Quick response to Melissa's question - Madison Middle School has had late arrivals (2 hr late start, about 2x/month) for teacher professional development all year this year.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Melissa's first posting where she stated that teacher professional developement was taking teachers away from the classroom to often. We have a similar problem at Salmon Bay middle school with a large amount of out-of-classroom-time. Although not attributed to professional developement it is still disturbing. For 6 Fridays in a row, the students participate in a Winter enrichment program, in which they are out of their classrooms the whole day doing fun things like skiing. The middles school basically closes on these 6 Fridays. The Friday after winter enrichment ends the school holds a dance during the school day which take the children out of their classroom on yet another Friday. And now they have begun service learning, in which they will be out of their classrooms for 5 full Fridays, weeding ivy at Golden Gardens. It all sounds fun, but I think it is a huge diservice to these children, who are basically only recieving a 4 day school week. This by the way is in addition to the professional developement. It just doesn't make sense to me. I'm all for kids enjoying school, but school is about learning and education, and working hard. I wish they would make the majority of these extracuricular programs and dances happen after school, and keep our children in their classrooms. We have been so irritated by this we have applied to transfer our son to Eckstein next year.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, we couldn't agree more. We are a white, middle-class family with a child performing above grade level and district communication/emphasis seems so hostile to families like ours, we feel we are staying in SPS -despite- the district's lack of interest in keeping us or attracting others like us. We also feel it's terrific to work to help close the achievement gap etc. etc. etc. but it pains us that the district tries so hard to pretend that kids like ours don't exist, to the point of not just benign neglect, but almost hostile neglect. Just to take a different tack with this, with all the gaps they are worried about, how about the gap between the racial makeup of SPS and the racial makeup of the city? What would be wrong with aggressively trying to recruit families of non-color? Maybe a little far out, but think about it.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the racial makeup of the district's students actually mirror pretty accurately the distribution of races in the *child* population? I thought there were a lot of childless and empty-nest adults in Seattle, which accounted for the disparity.

Anonymous said...

Parents and administrators seem to have dropped the ball at Madrona. I'm sure the children are happy and race and these other issues don't mean a thing to them. The administrators should have found a way to be more communicative and appreciative of the efforts of the white parents. At the same time, isn't it common sense not to barge into someone's house and tell them how things would be so much better re-arranged with some new furniture and a maid. Isn't there a common ground here, where the white parents could be more careful and appreciative of the parents already happy at the school? Is my private education failing me, or does the math say there are about 106 white students (of the 432) and a total of 11 left (oh, it said 11 black and white students left, so we don't know how many were white)? So about 421 of 432 students didn't feel things were bad enough to leave. Doesn't sound like a crisis to me.

Charlie Mas said...

Let's not forget that about 30% of Seattle schoolchildren are in private school.

If the demographics of the city's total child population matched the demographics of the district's enrollment, then wouldn't that mean that the private school population also has the same demographic mix as the district's enrollment?

Does anyone believe that the private school enrollment is only 40% White and is over 40% living in poverty? Hmmm. I run over to Lakeside and Seattle Prep and take a look. Yes, I could also go to St Edwards and St George, and I would find a lot of dark faces, but not so many on the free lunch program.

For all the trouble the District is having recruiting affluent White families, they may be having even more trouble recruiting middle-class Black families.

Think of the middle-class African-Americans you know. Do you think any of them would trust the Seattle Public Schools to educate their child? Ask around. Do many of them think that SPS would provide their child with an appropriate level of challenge? Do they want their children in a classroom with other public school children getting exposed to the peer pressure to underachieve?

I have heard this canard about the District's population matching the child population and I simply don't buy it. Is there ANY data to support this contention? For that to be true in a City that is 70% White where the District is 40% White, non-White families would have to have two times as many children as White families. For the City to be so affluent and the District to be so poor, money would have to cause sterility or sterility would have to boost earnings. (This is a joke; my logic skills really are better than that.)

When there are two products on the grocery store shelf that both claim to do the same thing, but one costs $10,000 and the other is free, what does it tell you when 30% of the shoppers buy the $10,000 one? Sure, some of them might be conspicuous consumers or snobs, but surely not more than 10%. For the other 20% I have to conclude that they are passing up the free one because the job is important and the free product doesn't work.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The District/Board have been talking about doing marketing for years and have never done much. I think we all know that word of mouth is very strong in a parent's mind. You hear a couple of friends talk up (or down) a school and it puts a picture in your head. A wise person does more but for some people, it shuts the door. The CAIEE recommended doing marketing but like most of its recommendations, it didn't happen.

I'm on a couple of listservs and one of them pretty much believes that white families are all affluent and get their way in whatever school they are in. I am always mystified at how they get to that place (some of them not being affluent and also being white). I agree it is bad form to come in and say, "here's what needs to be done." But it sounds like some of those families tried to help out even before they were even in the school community. A commitment to a school and follow-thru should not be discounted or mistrusted. Find common ground. I'll bet a lot of parents liked having a Spanish language program.

Madrona didn't just lose families to discontent. They also lost some under NCLB because they have been labelled not meaning AYP (families are notified of this listing and allowed to move to nearby schools). I believe this was the first year that families were offered McGilvra as one of their choices of places to move to and many did jump.

Charlie's right at a very basic level. The district loses money for every kid - of any race or background - who leaves our district. We need to get back some of our marketshare because the district would have many fewer problems if we did.

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia, just under 18% of households in Seattle include anyone 18 or under. So yeah, you *could* easily have 70% white folks in Seattle as a whole, and still have only 40% of the school-age children be white. Whether that's actually the case or not, I don't know. I thought someone posted a really good link to such statistics on this blog a while back, but I haven't found it again. Nor have I found any stats on the breakdown of races in the area's private schools. I guess I have bad search karma just now, because I know that stuff is out there. The Rainier Scholars people might know.

Anonymous said...

There was a discussion on this morning's 10 am KUOW Weekday show which, on Fridays, is a weekly newsround up with local columnists. They ended up discussing the institutionalized racism and Seattle schools and then segued to the Madrona story. (You can go to and listen to the program - the Madrona section started around 10:25 a.m.).

One of the guests was Knute Berger who, as it turns out, was one of the parents who invested time and money into the school when his child attended it (they have since left after 4 years there). He said he had attended the meeting profiled in the Times article and that district staff said that white people were moving into the neighborhood and white people made them uncomfortable.

I almost couldn't believe it except that he is a journalist and I don't think he got it wrong. I can't believe a district staffer would be voicing these kinds of opinions especially at a meeting that was to try to air differences and find common ground. Who are these people working for the district?

Charlie Mas said...

Regardless of the demographics of the whole city, if the District's demographics match those of the school-age children in the city, then the private school demographics must ALSO match, or nearly match, the District's demographics. I find that hard to believe.

At Madrona, only 29% of the students at a school are from the school's reference area. While this does not translate directly into 29% of the school-age children in the reference area choosing the school, I think that we can presume (presume is just like assume but with pretention) that it is pretty darn close if we give the District the benefit of the doubt about right-sizing the reference area to the school.

This indicates that the school is NOT serving the neighborhood kids. In fact, they are very up front about resenting the change in the neighborhood and resisting any reflection of that change in the school.

My friends, any time you find yourself fighting change, you are going to lose. You can try to manage or direct change, but you can't stop it. Life is change.

There are neighborhoods in the city where the private school market share exceeds 75%. It isn't hard to conclude that the District is not adequately serving these neighborhoods. The private school market share for all of the north-end, in fact, for all of Seattle north of Denny, is over 50%.

Doesn't that tell you that the District is not adequately serving these neighborhoods?

At the Community Conversation at Brighton, there was a question about student families not feeling welcome at the schools. The District staff person who answered talked about the *perception* that the school is unwelcoming. Hey - the perception of unwelcome IS unwelcome. There is no possibility of a gap between perception and reality here. The sense of unwelcome is entirely in the beholder.

Could it be that the District doesn't even know the vibe they are putting off?

Anonymous said...

They may know but not care. It's that "we don't care because we don't have to". District staff are generally dismissive and have rarely been held accountable for why this district is so unpopular.

It's not just a matter of bringing up WASL scores; it's a matter of being comfortable at a school. I've done school tours and I've told parents that unless you are just going to be leaving your kid at the door everyday, this is going to be YOUR school as well for 6 years. I think parents need to feel welcomed (I used to volunteer to go stand by the main entrance and welcome people and direct them where to go - people almost seemed startled to have someone say, "welcome" or "good morning".)

Anonymous said...

I wish the district would look at market share, and find out what a neighborhood wants and needs and offer programs that satisfy those needs. We are a North East Seattle family who found our neighborhood elementary school choices fantastic, but middle school choices dismal. Eckstein is a great school - we applied but but didn't get in. We didn't feel that there were any other neighborhood schools that were satisfactory (Summit, AS1, and Hamilton). We are now in that 50% bracket who seek to leave the district. We chose a Shoreline middle school, Kellogg. It's just as close to our house as Eckstein is. We are amazed at what the Shoreline district offers. Kellogg is a small school of 690 students, that offers self selected honors classes in all four core subjects, open to all students who choose to take them (The only requirement is that they maintain a 75%). They offer full year science at every grade, have an award winning band, strong foreign language program, great after school programs, and fantastic test scores. And, competetive with private schools, each student recieves his/her own ibook laptop on the first day of school. It's a public school so no cost to me, except my tax dollars. Why would I stay in Seattle. Seattle is just not competetive at the middle school level. It is clear to me why people leave the district.

Anonymous said...

I know this is a bit off topic, but I can make it fit. I just heard today that a ton of Laurelhurst families did not get into Roosevelt or Nathan Hale. One person I spoke to specifically said they were going to Garfield, their 3rd choice. Why is there not capacity in NE Seattle high schools to allow people who live in NE Seattle to go to high school there? That seems like a problem to me. It certainly seems like a way to chase people out of the SPS district.

Anonymous said...

I completely believe that the Mayflower email came from the vice-principal. I heard of it second-hand from the recipient long before the article was published. Sure, there are other highly unlikely sources for the email... but, bottom line, the vice-principal did it. Everybody knows it. (If he didn't send it, why did he apologize????) He should be fired.

Second: all those Draconian, un-enriched educational policies like no recess, no Spanish, no garden, no anything... would be acceptable if they actually raised academics or WASL scores, with the time and money saved. But, the school is a federally designated as FAILING!!! EG. It's not working. Maybe those are the kids who really need some better "enrichment". If you aren't going to pass the WASL, at least you could have some of that good old "love of learning".

Third: this principal, Andrews, wasn't able to raise WASL scores at Blaine... a lily-white school (with relatively mediocre WASL scores considering). If she can't do it in that easy, affluent demographic, how is she going raise achievement in a really challenging school? Answer: she isn't.

Anonymous said...

I've read articles about the trend around the country to eliminate recess and spend more time in class in an effort to raise standardized test scores. I had no idea it was happening right here in Seattle. It is absurd,and downright unhealthy for young children. And, as the previous poster points out, does not help children develop a love of learning. What a contrast to the "4 day school week" where children were out of the classroom for enrichment for so many Fridays at Salmon Bay (mentioned above). Both are extreme!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Check out Madrona's test scores. Only 2% of the 8th graders passed all 3 subject areas. This means only 1 kid passed. Uno! 33% failed everything.

Digging a little deeper, we discover the 1 passing kid is a black boy from a low income family. Looks like Madrona K8 has done an excellent job eliminating the achievement gap! Way to go school!

Charlie Mas said...

A Times follow-up today (Sunday 4/1/07).

It turns out that Danny Westneat is one of the White families that were made to feel unwelcome and left Madrona after four years.

Rickie Malone, the former Madrona principal - she is the principal at the African American Academy now, said at the meeting that White people in and around the school make her uncomfortable. I guess she isn't having those feelings of discomfort so much anymore.

Can anyone imagine a White public school principal saying "Having Black people in and around the school makes me uncomfortable"? Would anyone object to that sort of a statement?

Anonymous said...

That's simply outrageous! What, if anything is being done about it? What kind of message does this send our children? It is as though we have regressed 50 years.

Anonymous said...

At first this story/topic made me angry, but after reading today's piece in the Seattle Times by Danny Westneat, I just feel defeated. I share the question Westneat poses in his article: "Does the Seattle School District even want whites and blacks to go to school together?" And as a white parent who wants her white son to attend school with all kinds of kids, I have to wonder how I am viewed by District employees. Is my desire for integrated public schooling somehow patronizing? Naive? Racist?

Accusations of racist behavior and institutions (which apparently include summer vacation?!?) sure make a lot of noise - so where are the vocal parents, teachers, and community leaders who are willing to speak out against all this nonsense and work for solidarity and a common vision for educating our kids?

Please tell me that there is hope for this district.

Anonymous said...

In response to the post above mine, there are PLENTY of parents who would love to fight this matter and feel passionate about it - I know from conversations I've had with lots of parents - BUT, that being said, anyone who tries to fight this arguement will surely be labeled racist. It is getting SO tiring.

I personally was thrilled that the article on Madrona and then Danny's column were in the papers. Lots of people read them and I'm hoping just maybe, district officials will think a little bit about what is going on and possibly more advocates braver than I am will make some noise.

Charlie Mas said...

I read the Madrona School Transformation Plan (pdf, 4.3 MB), and I recommend that others read it as well.

It has four actions: a reading action, a math action, a family involvement action, and a school climate action. Here is a quote from the Family Involvement action:

"How did staff participate in setting this strategy? Staff analyzed current PTSA membership and noted that most parents/guardians involved are part of the primary grades. Involved families are also predominantly Caucasian, not representing the majority population in the school. We are working to be more proactive to increase African American family participation at all grade levels.

"What data identifies the need that leads us to this goal? We have made a strong effort at recruiting and using parents/guardians in the school as volunteers. According to record there are about 15-20 parents that volunteer on a weekly basis in the classroom for a total of 30-35 hours per week. Some volunteer in their child's class and some in other classes or in the library. These are parents/guardians that come in consistently on a schedule. There are also many parents/guardians that just stop in to visit classrooms or chaperone field trips, but we don't keep records of that. We have worked hard to have this group of parents/guardians represent the ethnic make-up of the school, but this has been difficult. About 2/3 of volunteers this year have been white parents/guardians and 1/3 have been parents/guardians of color who are volunteering consistently in the classrooms.

It seems to me - and other may read this differently - that Madrona wasn't happy about the family participation not because it wasn't enough, but because the wrong families were participating.

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that 60% of Madrona's certificated staff is white? About the same as the parent volunteers? Isn't that a big problem too?

Anonymous said...

I think what the parents of color (mostly African American) were trying to say is that historically when White familes (particularly middle class and up) want to be a part of something that is primarily serving people of color (let's say African American in this case), they usually want things their way, and since they have the means, they eventually get it.

The evidence of that happening is all around us here in Seattle. I don't know if any of you remember, but almost a year ago there was an article in the Seattle Times about the Central Area part of Madison Ave and what's been happening in the redevelopment. Dan Westneat wrote an article where he interviewed a long time African American resident who basically said that White people don't want to live among African Americans, they want to take over.

That's a factor that nobody seems to be talking about on this blog.
I'm not saying that makes them racist--classist maybe--but not necessarily racist.

I'm also pissed off at the fact that Madrona got the APP program in the 90's to bring diversity to the school. So is the District saying that only White (and sometimes Asian) kids are smart?

So what is the answer? The answer has been right in front of us all the time, but it requires work that the District doesn't seem to want to do: make every school a great school for every kid.

Anonymous said...

"Dan Westneat wrote an article where he interviewed a long time African American resident who basically said that White people don't want to live among African Americans, they want to take over. That's a factor that nobody seems to be talking about on this blog."

I can talk about this factor, but since I'm white I'm not sure how seriously I will be taken.

Am I to believe that because one person made such a statement that ALL African Americans feel this way about white people?

And as a white parent who lives in a highly diverse community in South Seattle, what on earth am I to do? Refuse to get involved in my local schools because some people will see my actions as aggressive or self-righteous? Move out of the neighborhood so my African American neighbors don't feel threatened by my presence? Give up and enroll my child in private schools from K on up?

I'd love to see the district "make every school a great school for every kid," but it seems like the various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups in this city can't agree on what a great school looks like. Is that the real issue here?

Charlie Mas said...

The anonymous poster above raises some questions that should be addressed.

Do White people like to have things their way? I suppose they do; after all, doesn't EVERYONE like to have things their way? Is that a particularly White trait? Don't the African-Americans at Madrona want to have things THEIR way? How is it different?

Do people who come to a school have any right to try to influence the school or must they accept the school as they find and forbear making any changes to it?

If they have some limited right to try to change the school, what are the limits? Can they only expand on existing programs or can they introduce new ones? Who can introduce new initiatives?

Didn't the Times story say that half of the 52 students enrolled into the kindergarten in 2001 were White and half were Black (no asians or latinos?)? If the rights to alter the school are race-based, then what rights are gained from making up half of the student body?

Then comes the question of wanting to "take over". Again, I'm not sure that this is a distinctly White trait and I'm not sure that a long-time African-American resident of the Central Area quoted in a Danny Westneat column is necessarily an authoritative source on that sort of thing. I, personally, would hestitate to make such blanket statements about such large groups of people.

What, exactly, was the "take-over" attempt? To offer music, art, and Spanish? To have a garden? It doesn't sound all that imperialistic to me. Weren't the music, the art, and Spanish for everyone regardless of race?

APP brought diversity to Madrona because, at the time, the school was predominantly Black and the program was predominantly White. That doesn't mean that only White kids are smart - I'm not sure how anyone could jump to that conclusion. As it turns out, the co-housing arrangement was a disaster - bad for everyone - and ended when Superintendent Stanford moved APP to Lowell in 1997.

You may say that the answer is to make every school a great school for every kid. Lovely. How do we do that?

Until you can show us how to do that, then your answer is no answer at all.

Anonymous said...

What to do?

This is hard to say, to find a way to phrase it so it comes out right (not politically correct but right).

I think parents, all parents, come into a school with a couple of issues. One is their vision of what a school should be. You'd think that parents would do their homework but many times people choose on reputation or go on a tour and call it a day. (There are several schools in this district that, to my mind, are coasting on reputations, not reality.) But does this vision match the reality of the school? I remember someone on this blog had said they were unhappy with how their experience at Salmon Bay was because of numerous Fridays being used for things other than traditional learning. I have a friend at Salmon Bay who says it's clearly explained to parents so that person should have known coming in. My experience is that many things - both academic and social - are NOT explained to parents and whoops! they find out after they are enrolled.

The other issue that parents bring is their own identities and perceptions. I was looking for something and found this site ( where parents can write reviews of their schools. There are many Seattle schools reviewed and it makes for interesting reading. For example, there are at least 2 entries for Hay Elementary on QA that both state that if you are a single parent, you won't fit in at the school and likely won't be part of the parent group. I have no idea if this is true but it's interesting that two people took the time to write in.

I use this example because there are many issues among parents; gifted versus regular ed students, out of home working moms versus at-home working moms, married versus single parents, different races, part of school music or athletic program. If you have a bias against (or for) any of these things, it's likely to show up in how you perceive your role at your child's school.

So here's the hard part. I know this district pretty well and have attended many Board meetings. I believe that black parents care about their children just as much as any other parents. Many times they are not in the position to give money or time to their child's school. It doesn't make their concern any less. (This is also true of many immigrant parents who also may come from cultures that do not embrace parental involvement at school.) But my perception is that many black parents come in believing that the deck is deliberately been stacked against them and their children. That you have to stand up to the least perceived slight. That you have to draw a line in the sand and make sure everyone knows where it is. I recall at the CAO interviews a year or so back, one candidate (both, including current CAO, Carla Santorno, were black) said that she had gone out into her African-American community and talked to parents about working together with other parents and about how to come to a Board meeting and make a case or a point without alienating their audience. I was so surprised that she would think it important to say that or that she even done it in her district. But she said her district had had problems with communications between different parents within one school.

And before someone says something, there are many people, of all types, who yell, insult, threaten and so forth at Board meetings. I don't mean to imply any one group does this or even does it regularly. But if you have attended a Board meeting, you've probably heard these people and thought, "okay, you're mad. What is yelling and swearing going to accomplish? I want to hear your real point and I'm missing it in the face of your anger."

The new white families who came into Madrona may have tried to do too much, too fast. Maybe it felt like a mother-in-law who comes to your house and decides to rearrange the furniture because "it needed it." It doesn't sound that way to me, though. It sounds like, from the log Charlie quoted, these people are making a good-faith effort to improve their child's school to benefit ALL the kids at the school. I think the principal really should have made a good faith effort to support efforts on all sides and find a way to bridge the gap.

I think the district needs to get rid of the adminstrator who said white people make her uncomfortable. She has no business being in this district.

Perhaps I have been lucky. I have been in PTSAs that welcomed new blood and new ideas. The adminstrations may not always have but the PTSAs always said, "come and give us your time and your ideas." Many hands make light work.

A conversation about these issues; that would be a courageous conversation.

Anonymous said...

The situation at Madrona makes it very obvious that CHOICE is crucial in the Seattle School District. If the District allows administrators at neighborhood schools to reject involvement by families who live in their reference area, then choice must be maintained or expanded.


Anonymous said...

Fighting change will never work. Change is inevitable. As neighborhood demographics change, schools will change. I don't know if it's good or bad, right or wrong, but it is inevitable. Without parents volunteering their time, talents, and money, a school is much more likely not to be successful. Everybody knows what a great school Bryant is, in fact their was an editorial on it's success in the Times today. Without parents volunteering their time and money, Bryant would be in no better shape than Madrona. So, when a new group of parents, white, black or otherwise, come into a school community and want to put their energy into making it a better place, they should be encouraged and embraced. To percieve this as taking over is absurd. This entire conversation is a rude awakening. I can't believe in such an open minded, progressive city, we are facing such a lack of acceptance of one another. For fear of sounding un-PC, I will say that I think white folks in Seattle go out of their way to embrace the african american community and go out of their way to have their white children in diverse environments. You don't find this in many cities, and I have always been proud to live here. And, as a bi-racial african american/caucasian family I and my children have always felt welcome, and at times priviledged. It's time to get over it Seattle, and do whats best for kids. Spanish, gardens, recess... it's good for ALL children. Move forward this is 2007.

deidre said...

Just in case you are interested here is the link to the article that I mentioned in my post above. It ran in todays PI and speaks about Bryant's success.

Sorry I forgot to sign my name on the above post, Deidre

Anonymous said...

What the article on Bryant said to me was that for many, many years this school appears to have relied on parent volunteers to challenge the kids in math beyond what the standard curriculum offers.

While I think it's great they got the math team going, I'm not so sure the tutoring during the day is the best way to use all those wonderful volunteers. I think after the need for such a program had been so clearly demonstrated for years and years, the teachers should have gradually taken over the duty of proving that math enrichment and acceleration to the kids who need it.

Bryant has tons of kids who qualify for APP and Spectrum every year. Under the terms of their ALO, those kids are supposed to get appropriate challenge within the classroom. Not just in fifth grade, not just for a math competition, but as part of their core education. The parents have gotten something wonderful going here, but it looks to me like a job half finished if the staff isn't taking up the other end of the work.

Anonymous said...

How do you give those children appropriate challenge within the classroom when you have 30 kids and one teacher???? There is no Spectrum at Bryant so children with all levels of competency sit in that 30 kid classroom. I'm not saying the children exceeding expectations shouldn't be challenged. They absolutely should. And, I think Bryant is one of the schools that does a fantastic job of making that happen. Until some logistical changes and reduced class size come to fruition, we count our lucky stars for those math volunteers. Our son goes to Bryant, and we have been quite satisfied. Our teacher knows our son very well, and challenges him appropriately, and has sent home numerous questionaires in regard to classwork IE too hard, too easy, things you'd like to see more of, etc. It works for us. Deidre

Anonymous said...

Anonymous you say "Bryant has tons of kids who qualify for APP and Spectrum every year. Under the terms of their ALO, those kids are supposed to get appropriate challenge within the classroom." Are you suggesting that Bryant and all schools should teach spectrum and APP level curriculum in their standard classrooms??? Why, then even have Spectrum and APP programs?? Those children who perform at these levels are allowed that curriculum per their "ALO", but they have to go to a school that provides it. My guess is these children remain at Bryant and dont transfer to a spectrum/app program because they are being challenged right where they are. Take a look at the Bryant test scores.

Anonymous said...

My daughter goes to Bryant. The children are challenged in every sense of the word. The math team is for the children who, by being challenged in their classrooms have proven to be performing well beyond expectations, and are motivated to compete with other schools. It is (at least at Bryant) complementary to, not in place of, challenging classroom instruction.

Anonymous said...

In response to anonymous above, I am the Salmon Bay parent who is appalled at the 4 day school week. I went to two different open houses, and the big curriculum event. It was Jodee Reeds first year as principal and she conducted the tours. She had just come back from a 3 month medical leave, and didn't know how many periods were in the school day, much less how many Fridays kids would be out of class. Winter enrichment was mentioned, so we knew about 6 Fridays of skiing, but we were never told of 5 Fridays weeding Golden Gardens, two Friday school dances (during the school day), All day Friday Skate party, etc etc.
Like I said, I'm all about children loving school. That said though, school is school, and the bottom line is it is a place of learning, not slacking. There is major slacking happening at Salmon Bay. Absolutely NO academic challenge, many children with social/behavioral issues, and very poor leadership. Odd, odd teachers too.

Anonymous said...

"Those children who perform at these levels are allowed that curriculum per their "ALO", but they have to go to a school that provides it."

It sounds as though there's some confusion about what an ALO (Advanced Learning Opportunities) program means. "Any elementary or middle school may opt to become an Advanced Learning Opportunities (ALO) site and undergo the certification process. Becoming an ALO site means that together, staff at the building have made a commitment to serve the needs of advanced learners. Advanced learners includes students identified by the district through the testing process as academically highly gifted or academically gifted and qualified for enrollment in Spectrum and/or the Accelerated Progress program, as well as teacher-identified students."

If Bryant is serving those students well in the classroom, great. But the part in Jerry Large's column about how the kids would be bored without the extra tutoring sounds to me as though those kids aren't getting the math they need elsewhere.

If that's not actually the case, I'm happy to hear it, and I'd like to see a follow-up article identifying *how* those students' needs are being met in large classes. That's the kind of information it would be better to have well known so that parents can make informed choices.

"Are you suggesting that Bryant and all schools should teach spectrum and APP level curriculum in their standard classrooms??? Why, then even have Spectrum and APP programs??"

Well, obviously some people prefer having their children remain in a heterogeneous classroom and getting differentiated instruction as needed. That's their choice when they pick an ALO school over one that offers self-contained Spectrum or APP. But that doesn't mean they're turning down any curriculum that even approaches Spectrum or APP standards (which are after all only one or two years ahead -- if you do any acceleration at all in math, it's hard not to bump into Spectrum or APP territory).

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

Every child's academic needs are supposed to met, no matter where you fall on the scale. I suspect Bryant parents are happy because their children are challenged but I also suspect that the teachers are awfully happy for the volunteer tutor corps.

(This is yet another issue; teachers at schools with high volunteer numbers who get very complacent about the volunteers and their time. This is an issue that drifts down from the Legislature. The Legislature, seeing that districts put forth levies that help pay for basic programming - not enrichment - say, why should we pay more if the area residents will tax themselves? Then, the district starts saying to schools that they believe schools should fund certain things - previously funded by the district - themselves. The schools then ask parents to supplement state/district monies AND volunteer at schools and, at the end of the day, the state is off the hook for what THEY rightly should be funding.)

Class size too big? Yes, that is quite the problem. But you have schools like Hale saying they can differentiate teaching and curriculum and serve both Honors/AP students along with the regular ed students. (They are doing away with most separate Honors/AP courses.) Neat trick, huh?

To the person who said, should we teach at Spectrum/APP level, that's what they did at Maple or Van Asselt (I forget which one) and their WASL scores soared. The teachers said if you teach to the top and help kids keep up it can be surprising how well they do. (They, of course, had to divert many resources to accomplish this feat.) Likewise, I can't tell you how many suspicious parents I've heard over the years who believe that Spectrum/APP kids are getting a "better" curriculum and why isn't it taught in regular ed if it's so great? Their answer would be to teach at a Spectrum/APP level.

I don't know what the answer is but I do know the crucial point of too many kids in one classroom, especially in lower-income areas, means those schools may never see a rise in scores because of those dual challenges.

Anonymous said...

" Likewise, I can't tell you how many suspicious parents I've heard over the years who believe that Spectrum/APP kids are getting a "better" curriculum and why isn't it taught in regular ed if it's so great?"

In math, it was only two years ago that the Whittier Spectrum classes actually got books for a year ahead. Previously they'd been expected to teach to above-level standards with grade-level books. Then the next year they were told they could use Connected Math for fifth-graders after all, and had to get all new books. Such a hoohah over something that really shouldn't be so complicated.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

So, if all schools and all classes are taught to Spectrum and APP standards, what happens to the average learner? Are they now the under achievers? How about students that are slightly behind? How will they keep up with a Spectrum/APP curriculum? I'm not saying setting high standards isn't good. It is, but I think high standard is individual to each child. We chose an alternative school, AEII for our child as they have mixed grade classes, and stay with the same teacher for two years. IE 1st/2nd graders are in one classroom. It is nice in a lot of ways, teacher knows student very well, child gets to be youngest in group and then oldest in group, etc. However, academically it is a disaster. To spread the curriculum to blanket a lower performing 1st grader and a Spectrum level 2nd grader would require super human teachers. So, what tends to happen is mediocrity, and the lower end as well as higher end students become underserved. I see it all the time. It is frustrating.