Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Digital Dialog

Here's a link to the Times' YouTube interface between high school students and the SB candidates. I didn't listen to all of it.

My impressions are that Peter seems much more assured and focused and Darlene seems to have listened to someone and comes across as the candidate I remember from 4 years ago. Namely, she's calm and articulate. However, I've seen the other Darlene and I'm not believing it again. Sherry does come across as having stock answers. Sally seems relaxed and talked up Dr. G-J. Harium was fine as usual as were Maria and Steve.

I'm also going to put in Lynne Varner's editorial from the Times today. Normally, I wouldn't because she tends to ramp up her rhetoric and mostly doesn't know what she is talking about. But she forgets history here and it's worth reviewing before anyone votes.

She states:

"The two incumbents running for re-election, Sally Soriano and Darlene Flynn, say that would have turned them into predictable rubber stamps. They've spent much of the campaign season contrasting their years of disjointed stewardship with their version of a frightening alternative: a board of pushovers."

Later she says:

"A decade ago, the district handed the reins of power to individual schools, letting principals run their shops as CEOs responsible for all successes and failures. The concept led to uneven school quality."

Well, the superintendent who pushed through the CEO/site-based management was the same guy who got it all rubber-stamped by the board. A supportive, accommodating board that asked few questions. The same accommodating board that managed to miss the financial problems that ballooned into a crisis. And this was a board with business people and lawyers.

She also says the most astounding things like:

"....pet issues such as calorie counts and water cleaner than the federal government's ought to be shelved for another day..."

and

"The board should cease its nattering about the achievement gap and listen to Goodloe-Johnson's plans."

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high and more and more kids have Type II diabetes. Water is the key to life on earth. And, sorry, but the achievement gap exists and to not face it head on is foolhardy. So how are these pet issues and the talk of them "nattering"? But this is typical of the Times.

She's right about this:

"Superintendent Maria Good-loe-Johnson arrived this summer and is already far down the track. The best thing the incoming board can do is roll up its sleeves and start in beside her. And try to keep up."

The point is you need a BALANCED board. Ms. Varner calls for a professional board which I read as code for people with a business background. We don't want pushovers and we don't want people who are obstructionists. We need people to make policy, support Dr. G-J BUT also ask the right questions at the right time and not be pushed around.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'll get blasted for this, but I'm hoping for a gender balance on the new board. I'm sick of Darlene and Sally having had way too many interactions with both of them. They have never worked as part of a team and have been way too ready to demand a response from district staff and then be critical when they don't hear what they wanted to hear. There is a difference between be passionate about issues and being rude and uncompromising.

I'm female if you were wondering...

Charlie Mas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said...

The anonymous comment above touches on a thought I have often had. For all of the careful attention given to racial balance within the District, there is little or no attention given to gender balance.

For example, does it bother no one else that less than 15% of the Board is male, when the district is approximately 50% male? That's some serious under-representation.

What portion of teachers are male - particularly at the elementary level? If we are concerned about students having teachers who look like them, then doesn't gender count?

There are folks at the District who are very worked up about disproportionate discipline when a group of students are suspended or expelled more than White students (no mention of those groups which are disciplined at lower rates), but they are not the least bit worked up by the huge disproportionality between discipline rates for male students and female students.

There was an article in the P-I today about how boys lag behind girls in reading, particularly in middle school, yet there is no discussion of this problem at the District level. Think of all of the programs specifically to support girls in the math and science area. Where is the equivalent of MESA for boys' reading?

What's up with that? Is this an extension of the thinking that only Whites can be racist that says that only men can be sexist? And just as we don't need to worry or think about those times when other racial groups out-perform Whites, we don't have to think about those times when girls out-perform boys?

concerned said...

The gender difference in academic outcomes is certainly on the radar screen at our elementary school. I think that teachers try to address it by addressing learning styles. That has had limited success. They have been hiring male teachers. I’m not sure they know what else to do.

Charlie Mas said...

Regarding Lynne Varner's editorial, like her, I hope that our Board will step back and allow the Superintendent captain the ship. But, in the event that the Superintendent won't come out of his cabin, I hope that the new Board will show the same courage and integrity we saw from the current Board, and that they will step forward and assume control of the unmanned wheel.

Charlie Mas said...

This is something that I have noticed. Let me know if you have noticed it also.

There is a general level of dissatisfaction with Seattle Public Schools. In many cases this dissatisfaction is unspecific. Surveys indicate that people with kids in the schools are generally pretty happy with what's going on for their child, but generally unhappy about district-wide things.

These folks seem to fall into three camps:

Those who lay the blame on the Board.

Those who lay the blams on the past two Superintendents and their senior staff.

and Those who blame everyone who gets mail at the JSCEE.

Lynne Varner is in the first group. No matter what goes wrong, she's going to blame the Board. From her perspective, everything the Board does is wrong. She welcomes a rubber stamp Board so long as they are quiet. Her perfect Board, apparently, would do nothing. She wants them to "watch the superintendent closely". She wants them to fulfill an oversight role, but she doesn't want them to "threaten to fire the superintendent, either covertly or overtly, unless a replacement is waiting in the wings". I think having a replacement in the wings would be a pretty strong, overt threat.

She wants them to serve as "a liaison between constituents and the district", but that role apparently doesn't translate into doing anything for constituents - those pet issues ought to be shelved for another day.

I'm in the other camp. I lay all of the blame for the uneven school quality on a Superintendent who abdicated his authority to intervene when schools were failing. I point to all of the executive duties that went unfulfilled. I go on incessantly about the District's unwillingness to change its culture. Even I am tired of hearing me rant about it. From my perspective, the Board's unusually active involvement was made necessary by the absence of leadership from the Superintendent. I see every bungle as having its source in his office. Phase II school closures was a botch job - by the Superintendent. The initial effort to close schools was a botch job - by the Superintendent. The TAF proposal was botched, by the senior staff. The overspending of the operating budget in 2001 and 2002, the overspending of the capital budget in 2002 and 2003, the disastrous contract with the teachers, and every other fiscal absurdity all came out of the Superintendent's office. The adamant refusal to constructively engage the community had the tacit, if not active, support of the Superintendent. The internal politics that drove every decision at the District went undiminished by the Superintendent.

I think most people don't do any such attribution analysis. I think they just paint everybody in a leadership role with the same tarry brush and want to get rid of them all. I can't say that I blame them.

We are coming through an ugly time and we aren't quite done with it yet. Like Lynne Varner, I see a new day dawning with the new Superintendent. I don't think that new day requires a new Board (all of the advances she touts came under the current Board - after Mr. Manhas announced his resignation), but I don't think a new Board will slow it down any.

I agree with Lynne Varner: if we have a strong, competent Superintendent taking us in the right direction, then we don't need to hear from the Board. In fact, we don't want to. If, on the other hand, the Superintendent either isn't competent or isn't taking us in the right direction, then I DO want to hear from the Board, and I hope Lynne Varner would agree.

Anonymous said...

Nice post Charlie - and honest and funny ("I even get tired of hearing me rant about it" - ha)

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

About Lynne Varner.

What is her back ground? Where does she live? Does she have any kids?
If she does, do they attend public schools in Seattle? Does she volunteer in the Seattle public schools?

Why should we believe that she knows what she is writing about?

Just wondering.

ultimate fan said...

It's funny - and good that this blog draws people of many stripes and that the conversation can stay mostly constructive.

I read Lynn Varner's column to say that Sally and Darlene are characterizing any opposition to their campaigns as sure to result in a rubber-stamp board - not that she (Lynn) wants one (who would? and Melissa are you saying that lawyers and businesspeople are more likely to? They come in all stripes, too.)

The ideas of site-based mgmt and weighted student formula funding would have been great had they been implemented the way they were conceived - with mechanisms for accountability and consequences (i.e., if you can't draw enough students to function, you're closed or redefined; if your principal flounders, he's replaced).

You and Charlie have followed this for longer than I have - at whose feet would you lay the fact that they weren't? The Waldman/Brown board, the board with Dick Lilly and Jan Kumasaka, the current one? Raj?

I've been frustrated with Lynn before and thought she shot from the hip (hitting not just the board but the system and the students in the process - my beef) - but this time I have to say I thought she was right on (if hyperbolic in trying to make a point about the board getting more wrapped up in activist issues than in governing and holding the superintendent accountable.)

Anon 10:21, I think she has one elementary school-age child and lives outside Seattle, according to her bio on the Times. She's followed all of this for several years as an editorial writer and I think was an education reporter for the Times before that.

If you think she's not informed, give her the information. I called her # a few years ago to leave a message about something I thought she got wrong, and she answered and we had a long conversation.

ultimate fan said...

PS - to me, "professional" doesn't mean a business person or lawyer - it means a level of knowledge and performance as contrasted perhaps to "amateur".

It means someone who follows a basic set of rules of engagement or behavior, like:

1) Show up on time
2) Do what you said you were going to do, when you said you'd do it
3) Tell the truth
4) Count to ten
5) Praise publicly; criticize privately
6) Set your ego aside - don't take credit for something someone else did
7) Respect relationships, especially with your colleagues - if you have an issue with someone, tell him first - not his boss, his peers, the press, or the union
8) Lead by example
9) Take the initiative to make things better
10) Focus on the situation not the person
11) Don't interrupt
12) Chew with your mouth closed
13) Give 2 weeks' notice
14) etc

I know lots of business people, lawyers, and board members who don't do some of these things - and lots of teachers, nurses, musicians, coaches, checkers, and clerks who do.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would first lay the blame on the superintendent at the time - Voldomort or as he is better known, Joseph Olchefske. The Board at the time was Nancy Waldman, Steve Brown, etc. Nobody held this guy accountable or in check and he lead us to disaster.

No, I didn't mean lawyers or business people would be more likely to rubberstamp decisions. (roll of the eyes) But when you get people with similar work backgrounds I find they tend to mirror each others believes. Like or not, the people who currently sit on the Board have very different work backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Olchefske was Voldemort? Geez Melissa, take a few weeks off so you can ramp down the hate mongering.

I know Olchefske gets blamed for the $33 million debacle, heck he ought to be blaming himself. But what was the reality there? Anyone recall? Wasn't there an absence of accounting protocols in place to double-check that grant money that was supposed to come actually did? And wasn't there some budget mgr who acknowledged keeping two sets of books but eventually slipped off to Hawaii leaving more courageous people to face the music?
Just trying to separate dislike for an obviously dislikeable superintendent with the facts of the matter.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Didn't say I hated him. He was incredibly incompetent and hurt our district. He was CFO first, came to the district with a financial background and became superintendent. He, out of any superintendent, should have been able to keep better watch over the finances and set up better protocols. He didn't. Go read Moss-Adams because I'm not making this up.

That's just for finance. There are many, many things that he did to hurt our district. But that's over and done. Someone asked me who I laid blame for the problems of site-based management and he's the answer.

Anonymous said...

Wow Melissa. I see why you don't like Darlene Flynn. You sound just like her. Strident, angry and a bit hyperbolic.

Olchefske hurt the district in the same way the loss of the racial tiebreaker will hurt and the intrusion of NCLB will hurt. As in, we'll take a step backwards in some ways, and be just fine in other ways.
This district is too large to put the blame for its failings on one man... unless you think he was evil and powerful on the scale of Voldemort.

ultimate fan said...

If anything, a lesson out of that financial debacle is that SPS is a half-billion $ operation with thousands of employees, and we need to have the highest-caliber everything (sup't, CFO, budget manager, accounting manager, HR, general counsel, board, you name it).

As a sup't/CEO, it takes a while to understand the workings of an org that size, even if you have the best CFO, budget manager, accounting manager, etc in place - and meanwhile, it's cranking away.

At $500 million in revenue and spending per year and 365 days, that's almost $1.5 million/day (including payrolls, utilities, and everything except construction and other capital expenses.)

Another lesson might be that while cutting central staff and the expenses associated with them seemed like the easiset and most humane way of handling revenue shrink from the state, it can result in fewer people available to design and execute the accounting controls that either prevent or detect these debacles.

The good news is that the state auditors have given the district a clean opinion with very few "observations" about areas needing improvement. It will be interesting to see what the sup't's auditors say -

Charlie Mas said...

I wrote, about Lynne Varner:
"She welcomes a rubber stamp Board so long as they are quiet."

ultimate fan responded:

"I read Lynn Varner's column to say that Sally and Darlene are characterizing any opposition to their campaigns as sure to result in a rubber-stamp board - not that she (Lynn) wants one (who would?"

Just to keep things clear, here is the part of the opinion piece that gave me that idea:

"The rest of us ought to vote Nov. 6 for four new board members who can, whether wielding a rubber stamp or simply a rational brain, work together in and out of the spotlight."

Now, I recognize that she might not have meant that literally, but I'm not entirely sure.

I have met with Lynne Varner a couple of times and we have exchanged a lot of correspondence. I like and respect her, and I can tell you that she has an excellent background in Seattle Public Schools issues. She knows what she's talking about. We don't happen to agree on a few things, and I'm privvy to some things that she doesn't know about and she's certainly in the know about some things that have been kept from me. So we honestly arrive at different views but without acrimony or contempt.

I will also say that she listens to and honestly considers opposing views, but she's as human as anyone else and is likely to respond aggressively to aggressive people.

ultimate fan said...

Hi Charlie - I read that same passage to mean that sometimes decisions would require deep analysis and result in a divided vote, and sometimes (warrants?) the vote would be fairly routine, uncontroversial, and unanimous (i.e., "rubber stamp" - though I know that generally has a different and negative connotation).

Add the flair for the somewhat hyperbolic turn of phrase that Lynn is known for, and (in my mind) you get what she wrote there.

FYI - I agree with her on Darlene, see where she comes from on Sally but don't think I'll be voting with her for reasons I've described in other posts - and read all things, I guess, with that backdrop.