Tuesday, May 15, 2007

If I were running for the Board

For me, the primary issue in Seattle Public Schools continues to be the District's structural and cultural inability to respond to the needs of the community.

So what could a Board member do to fix that?

I think the Board could direct the Superintendent to do surveys and other forms of market research. For example, why hasn't the Board asked the Superintendent to make an assessment of the demand for public school services broken down by program and location? How can we even begin to form either a student assignment plan or a facilities plan without that data? There are a number of other surveys that would be helpful, I'm sure.

The Board could ask for a public input column on every Board action like they now require a fiscal note. The staff would have to disclose how and when they solicited public input, and the volume and content of what they received. This would create a structural element to support the cultural shift towards gathering public input and getting it early. If the public input is inadequate, the Board could defer action until that situation is remedied - just as they would do now if the fiscal note were too vague or incomplete.

Members of the Board could call on an involved and knowledgable member of the community to answer questions or perhaps even to ask questions of staff members at committee meetings, work sessions, and legislative meetings. For people who claim to want dialog, they never initiate any, they never even allow it. All they would have to do is call on someone and ask "What is your perspective?". Can you imagine that - if Jane Fellner or Chris Jackins were called to answer questions from the podium at a legislative meeting? Wouldn't that be exactly the kind of meaningful communication and dialog that everyone claims they want, but nobody does?

To improve accountability, the Board could have each Board Action item to list the names and positions of all of the participants in the recommendations, perhaps even with some details about the nature and extent of their contributions. This would enable the Board to ask why other stakeholders (such as community members, but also staff from other departments) were not represented. This could break down some silos. It would also justify the Board's asking those stakeholders to offer their input at the either the Committee meeting or the legislative meeting during the discussion of the Action Item.

Finally, every program and initiative should have a sunset provision so that it is automatically revoked unless renewed. First, this would enforce the annual program review requirement. Second, at the renewal vote, the program's outcome would be reported so the decision to continue a program can be based on data and only the programs that hold the promise of effectiveness are renewed.

These are the sort of real reforms that a Board member could implement to bring about the sort of changes that we want.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Please, Please, do run.

Melissa Westbrook said...

We should send this blog to every candidate (and the new Superintendent) and ask if they would pledge to take these steps. And if not,why not? Heck, ask the current Board. These steps would go a LONG way towards making people believe in the Board and the Superintendent and the actions they do or do not take.

Charlie Mas said...

What are the issues in this election?

Here are the ones I can think of:

1) Student Assignment Plan, which is closely tied to:

1a) Transportation Policy and
1b) Program Placement
1c) A real facilities plan

2) Math Curriculum
3) BEX III - the real spending plan
4) A real plan to close the academic achievement gap
5) Getting the District leadership out of the property management business
6) Changing the District's culture by making it

6a) More open
6b) More honest
6c) More transparent
6d) More engaged and
6e) More accountable

7) Truly embracing family and community engagement
8) Breaking down fiefdoms, silos and non-communication within the District.

Charlie Mas said...

Questions for Seattle School Board candidates:

1) Right now, the School Board cannot function as a policy-making body because the Board has no means for enforcing their policies. How would that change with you on the Board?

I would hire a cop, a policy enforcement officer deputized with the authority of the Board to investigate possible policy violations and, if violations are found, to order things set right. This would probably require the establishment of set processes, but nothing that could not be worked out.

2) What Board action can assure that high academic expectations are set and maintained for all students and what Board action can assure that students get the support they need to meet those expectations?

This may be beyond the reach of the Board, but a tight promotion/non-promotion policy would be a good start. Including these elements in teacher and principal reviews would be another, although not something that the Board could do directly.

3) Many Board members - and community members - complain about the lack of dialog between members of the community and the District leadership. How will you, as a Board member, create that dialog?

I think the community meetings that Directors host is an excellent start, but people need to be able to have a dialog with all of the Board together and with the District staff as well. I would suggest including participation from the public in the discussions at committee meetings, at work sessions, and even at legislative meetings. I would ask for the public input record described in the original post as part of any Recommended Board Action report.

4) For the past several years, the District's primary goal and priority has been to close the Academic Achievement gap by bringing every student up to the Standards. What is the District's current plan to achieve that goal? Has the District developed and implemented a plan of action that can be reasonably expected to achieve that goal?

I do not believe that the District has developed or implemented any plan that can be reasonably expected to achieve this goal. As a Board member, I would direct the Superintendent to deliver and implement exactly such a plan.

5) It is difficult, if not impossible, for families in some neighborhoods to gain access to nearby schools. Queen Anne and Magnolia families cannot get into nearby high schools. Capitol Hill families cannot get into nearby elementary schools. North end families in a variety of neighborhoods cannot get into nearby middle schools. How will you address their needs?

The Board should direct the superintendent to conduct an assessment of the demand for public school services, broken down by program and location and to use the data from this assessment to develop a facilities plan that will address the needs of all Seattle students.

6) Access to alternative education varies widely from neighborhood to neighborhood. How, as a Board member, will you provide more equitable access to alternative education?

I would like to see Summit K-12 relocate to a more central location, such as Lincoln. I would like to see BEX III money allocated to the construction of an appropriate building for Pathfinder. I would like to see plans for a new alternative schools at Old Hay, Fairmount Park, E. C. Hughes, and whatever K-5 is closed in the Central region.

7) Is John Stanford International School an alternative school? Is The New School an alternative school? Is TOPS an alternative school?

The immersion programs at John Stanford International School should be regarded as an alternative program and student assignment should be consistent with that determination. The New School and TOPS are alternative schools, and should therefore be freed to differ from the adopted curriculum and encouraged to head in a different direction.

8) There's a lot of talk about accountability. How, exactly, can a Board member hold any member of the staff accountable for poor performance?

This is not a Board activity. The Board directed the Superintendent to develop and implement an accountability plan - it is a joke. The Board should hold the Superintendent accountable for failing to implement the accountability plan.


9) How can we rely on someone who has been a unconditional cheerleader for the District to provide oversight for District staff?

That's not a problem for me, so I will answer the alternative question: Do you think you can have a positive working relationship with the District administration you have actively opposed?

I do. I can conduct myself as a professional and expect no less from them.

10) The Board only votes on the total expenditures for the four funds in the District budget. Without any line item control, how can the Board be sure that the District's money is wisely spent?

The Board has no authority in this area.

11) How will the change from the weighted student formula to the weighted staffing formula improve academic opportunties for our students?

It won't.

12) How can making the student assignment policy more restrictive improve academic opportunities for our students?

It can't.

Anonymous said...

1) Right now, the School Board cannot function as a policy-making body because the Board has no means for enforcing their policies. How would that change with you on the Board?

I would hire a cop, a policy enforcement officer deputized with the authority of the Board to investigate possible policy violations and, if violations are found, to order things set right. This would probably require the establishment of set processes, but nothing that could not be worked out. >

Let's start with having the Board put not woefully out of date policies in place. What good is enforcement if everyone agrees that a policy is out of date, but no one has gotten around to revising it? I think a huge flaw of SPS school boards, current and past, is the micromanagement of requiring every policy through one to three committees before it comes before the board. For some topics i.e. state mandated polcies, a board should just adopt the WSSDA model policy.

Brita said...

Hello all,

The Superintendent does have the responsibility for implementing and monitoring enforcement of federal and state law and board policy. However, recent boards have been remiss in not keeping the set of policies up-to-date. Some have not been reviewed since the 1970's or 1980's. As part of our board's annual goal-setting, I have proposed that we review 20% of all our policies each year but the board was not ready to make such a commitment. However, in the Student Learning Committee, we are reviewing all policies in 3 key areas this year and revising accordingly. This is a start.

I sense that people are not aware of the sheer volume of reading and emails that we contend with. Using our committee structure to vet staff ideas and decide if they merit coming before the whole board has been very productive, IMHO.

The board cannot do this job justice in our spare time, with no staff. Our ability to be informed on each issue which comes before us, to be responsive to our constituents, to hold the district accountable, to review policy, to be the public face of the district , really requires staffing. Each city council member, the Mayor, and each senator and state representative have legislative aides to help them with policy research, meeting prep, briefings, analysis, etc. This would be a huge help to Seattle school board members. Instead, we have tried to be fiscally very conservative in the board office. This may have been short-sighted.

Anonymous said...

Brita,

Leslie here - if the Board needs staff, why can't the Board mandate it in their budget operations - why is the Board not setting the model and not implementing it. I think the fact that this is the only legislative body I can think of that has NO staff is a shame, especially given the fact that the time committments are extraordinary for no pay.

I am perhaps unaware of what actions or discussions the Board has had towards getting themselves staff and hope you can enlighten us on the history. I don't understand why the Board doesn't mandate staff for itself as part of its policy and budget setting initiatives - what am I missing here?

Thanks much for all that you do.

Anonymous said...

The Board has two dedicated staff members. Last I noticed, that was one more than any other single district senior staff member (ie Sup, CFO, COO) has working for them other than the CAO who has an Assistant CAO. To me, this issue comes back to Board management. Why fall out of date when you could easily adopt model policies?

Charlie Mas said...

With all due respect to Director Butler-Wall, the Superintendent has not shown himself to be an adequate enforcer of District Policy. In fact, thanks to processes that cause nearly all decisions to flow through the Superintendent, he is the primary violator of District Policy.

For example, the recent decision to create an additional APP site was a direct violation of District Policy D12.00. Their reaction when this policy violation was pointed out to them revealed that they were completely ignorant of the Policy - they never bothered to check it.

Last year's mass reclassification of about 900 students from 10th grade to 9th grade (done specifically to goose WASL pass rates for a single year) was in direct violation of the District Policy on the promotion/non-promotion of high school students.

The Superintendent's failure to conduct annual program reviews is in violation of District Policy.

The Superintendent's refusal to respond to recommendations from advisory committees is in violation of District Policy.

If the Superintendent were doing a good job enforcing the District Policies, the lack of policy compliance - and accountability - would not be an issue.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree with Brita and Charlie. The purpose of the School Board per its own policy is:

"The Board of Directors is the legislative body of the District. In order to achieve its vision that every student will graduate and be fully prepared to lead a successful life, the Board shall exercise the full authority granted to it by the laws of the State."

The Board cannot abdicate is primary role: setting district policy. The policy "violations" that Charlie is raising - in particular the retention policy issues - are a direct result of years of the Board failing to do its primary job: maintain current policies.

As to the "we don't have a staff" issue, that is a bogus answer. I refuse to believe that Brita is claiming that if when she was Board President she had asked the HR director or the facilities director to review all of the Board policies in thier respective fields and bring forward any polcies that needed revision they would have ignored her.

Brita said...

Hello all,

I need to clear up a major misunderstanding, judging from the previous post. No individual board member gives any orders whatsoever to any staff member in the district. As a collective body, we do evaluate and give direction to the Superintendent. As I mentioned, I could not get my colleagues to agree that reviewing and revising board policies should be a priority, thus, I do not have the ability to ask the Superintendent to have his staff do this work.

As chair of SLC, I have gotten the other two members to agree that we will review some of the SLC policies this year. We collectively decided to review those in three key areas: special ed, bilingual, and discipline. The Chief Academic Officer, Carla Santorno, is the Superintendent's liaison to the SLC and she appointed a staff person to work with other district staff to identify policy changes they would like to see.

It is left up to me to gather input from the parents and public.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you are quietly stacking up a lot of votes here.

Even if you don't run, why don't you collect all of the written analyses and recommendations that you've made so far into a set of coherent Web pages (i.e. not in a chronological, conversational blog format as they've been posted here over time, in which things become hard to find afterward) that people can easily reference?

Anonymous said...

Brita and all,

I still don't "get" why Board doesn't budget for and hire staff - obviously needed -

Don't quite understand 11:07 Anon's comments re Board w/ two staff (which ones - duties? Analysis driven or administrative?) has more than any other single sr. staff - - - doesn't sr. staff have whole depts working for them? Is there another legislative body that has no/two dedicated staff for board of x w/ no pay?

Thanks much.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, so one more item to add to the list of "If I were running" items: Public Participation at Board Meetings.

There were three elements present when this policy was changed in January that seem to have been forgotten.

One, the Board was supposed to try these changes and evaluate the results in six months. The six months are up next month. It is time for the Executive Committee to put it back on the agenda for a June meeting. Don't get license to make changes by telling people that it's just a trial and you will evaluate in six months and then forget that and act like it was a permanent change from the start. Do the evaluation and share your results and conclusions.

Two, a number of other practices were supposed to be introduced at the same time. The Customer Service staff were supposed to come to Board meetings and take complaints. Someone was supposed to collect the names and comments of anyone who was left off the list and make sure that District staff would get back to them to address their concern. A District Staff person was supposed to get back in touch with every person who signed up to speak and address their concern. All of this activity was supposed to be logged and tracked and reported. Needless to say, none of those actions were ever taken.

Three, all of the talk running up to the change in the public participation policy was about improving communication and - particularly - about creating dialog. There has been no improvement in either. All this change did was re-arrange the order of the speakers. It didn't do anything else. Changing the order of the speakers this week shut out all of the people who wanted to talk about military recruiters and shut out all of the people who wanted to talk about the principal selection at the African American Academy. How is that a good thing?

Charlie Mas said...

The Board does not budget for staff because the Board does not write the budget. The Superintendent writes the budget.

The two staff people for the Board are strictly administrative, not analytical. They prepare the agendas and staff the office.

Furthermore, it is not necessary for the Board to hire analysts. There are a number of people in Seattle with very strong analytical skills who would be delighted to provide reports to the Board on a volunteer basis. I would not refuse a Board member who asked me for an analytical report.

There is a lot of lip service given to the idea of using the talents and resources of volunteers, but I only ever see it done within the context of fundraising.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, two more reforms to add to my campaign promises:

Principal Selection Reform. Schools communities should be kept informed at every step of a principal change and should have the opportunity to provide meaningful input at every step of the way. This process should reflect the values we claim to support: openness, honesty, transparency, engagement, and accountability.

1. The community should be advised and consulted when a change is being considered. No waking up in the morning and reading in the paper that your principal has been suddenly re-assigned to a different school. Likewise, no waking up in the morning and reading that your school suddenly has a new principal. See for reference West Seattle High School.

2. They should have strong participation in the selection of a replacement principal. Even if the District is going to install a principal already under contract, the community should have a say.

3. Significant weight should be given to the preference of the principal hiring committee. Why this rule that the committee has to submit three names and can't say which is their first choice? Is that a legal thing? A union thing? It's bull. People should be free to express their preferences and decisions.

4. The reformed principal selection process should be codified in Policy so future Superintendents cannot change it at will.

Let's be square about this. The Superintendent should not have the final choice, the committee should. The Superintendent already gets to narrow the field of candidates. The Superintendent simply should not include anyone in that field that he or she does not want in the job. After that filtering, the Superintendent, should be ready to accept the choice of the committee.


Second reform: Program Placement. The Program Placement process should also be open, honest, transparent, engaged and accountable. Moreover it should be driven by data, by academic priorities, and by the best interests of the students.

I will leave it to the District staff to propose a process that meets these criteria, but until a new process is set in policy, the meetings of the Program Placement Committee should be opened to the public. These meetings do not involve individual personnel decisions and has significant impact on students and their families. They should be open.

Beth Bakeman said...

Three cheers for these last two promises, Charlie! And are you running?

Charlie Mas said...

Because I live in District VII, Southeast Seattle, the soonest I could run would be in two years. Cheryl Chow now holds that seat. My current work situation precludes my committing the necessary time to serving. We'll see what my work situation is like in two years. Also, it may be a paid position by then.