Monday, April 30, 2007

Educational Philosophy

The purpose of this blog is to bring people "together across Seattle to fight for high quality public schools that educate all students to become passionate, lifelong learners."

For me, education is a social justice issue. In order to create more justice in the world, we need a more just and equitable education system. But I also believe we (in Seattle, in Washington and all over the world) have a moral imperative to help every student learn to their highest potential, pushing kids to grow, set goals, and grow some more. What students should learn includes academics, social skills, and how to live and work in our world.

This is my philosophy of education. My core beliefs about what education is and what it is for, shape all my other opinions about public education. The same is true for everyone else who publishes and post comments on this blog. And where our philosophies differ, our opinions are sure to clash.

I don't believe there are many absolutely "right" answers to most of the questions Seattle Public Schools is wrestling with. I do believe we can discuss these important issues with people who have different educational philosophies and different opinions, and learn new things that can alter our opinions and beliefs. And that is what this blog is for.

School Board Candidate web sites

District 1, Far north Seattle:
Peter Maier
Sally Soriano, incumbent


District 2: Around Greenlake
Darlene Flynn, incumbent (has yet to announce if she is running for re-election)
Lisa Stuebing website
Sherry Carr website


District 3: Northeast Seattle
Brita Butler-Wall, incumbent (has yet to announce if she is running for re-election)

Harium Martin-Morris website

District 6: West Seattle
Steve Sundquist
(the incumbent in District VI, Irene Stewart, has announced that she will not run for re-election)

I hope to update this page as names and web sites are added.

Thoughtful column on college

This from Michael Winerip an education columnist from Sunday's NY Times. Not something necessarily to discuss but food for thought. I'm reading a book by a woman who used to be an admission's officer at Duke University. It is pretty heartbreaking. There are many wonderful colleges and universities out there and the name-brand ones are unbelievably hard to get into even for BWRKs (her name for Bright Well-Rounded Kids).

Equality versus Quality in Schools

This morning's column in the Times by Jerry Large sheds some light on my question about why Franklin was popular earlier in this decade (are we really on the downside of the decade, how? when? did that happen) and now is not quite as popular. What it points to is that too much change too quickly (in Franklin's case change in leadership and programming) can make parents uneasy.

Time has gone by so fast I had forgotten about the Supreme Court case about Seattle's tie-breaker. It is time for that decision to come down. I'm pretty sure (just based on the performance of SPS's lawyer before the Court) that the District will lose its case. It will be interesting to see if a new tiebreaker, like socio-economic status, will appear in discussions about the assignment plan.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

All Kids Go to College

I was reading an interview that Melinda Gates did with a journalist, Robert Siegel about education. Here's part of what she said (this is not out of context, it's a separate question from other questions she was asked):

"I just want to ask you about a statement on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Web site that I read, which is that, "All students in the United States can and must graduate from high school, and they must leave with the skills necessary for college, work, and citizenship.
" I think everyone would agree that they better leave with the skills for citizenship because everyone can vote at age 18, and we urge them to. College. Can we reasonably expect 100 percent of high school students to become college students?
Yes, I think we can. And, in fact, I'm here today in the Chicago school district visiting with students...huge number of Latinos and African-American populations, and guess what? I'm in schools where 95 to 98 percent of these kids are going on to college, and it's because they started freshman year with teachers who believe in them and said, 'These kids can do it.' And maybe they are not coming in with the right reading or math skills, but we are going to bring them up, and we are going to have high expectations of them. And guess what? Those kids are succeeding, and those kids are getting into college."

This got me to thinking because on Friday's Weekday on KUOW, they had women in the trades on (there was a trades fair going on downtown that day). One woman was a welder, one was an electrician and I believe the other one was in construction. Two of them had college degrees but really wanted to and ended up enjoying their work tremendously. There is a looming shortage of workers in the trades (men, not just women; most are in their late '50s according to these women on the show). They work for about $22-30 per hour. But shop and other vocational ed classes have gotten phased out and many kids don't even know about these types of jobs.

- I agree with Ms. Gates on the college ready, work and citizenship fronts (but, as I have said previously, I really believe the citizenship one is vital and yet gets virtually no press or emphasis even though we are in a war, are having the Bill of Rights challenged on every front and have failing voting rates). However, the reality is not every student is going to college. No way. It may be a great sound bite but college is not for all kids and college is not affordable for all kids. If we make kids feel that they are failures for NOT going to college, we send them out into the world feeling defeated. At 18.
-She also says that with the kids in Chicago they started in freshman year. Really. Okay, great if that's how it worked out. I have a hard time believing that you can turn around that many kids in 4 years. I'm with Mike Riley over in Bellevue. You start in kindergarten just talking about college and how important it is. Kids need to believe (or at least be thinking in these terms) by middle school that they need to plan for college AND that there is a full support system to help them.

So here's a couple of questions:
-Should the goal be college-ready or everyone in the pool to college (and can you imagine the systemic changes that would have to occur for this to be a reality)?
-Why, if you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who's remodeling their house in some way (meaning we need all those people who have expertise in all kinds of skills), do we not talk to kids about their options? Frankly, some college or a college degree can only help a person with any job especially if they want to run a business. I have been an at-home mom for years and just recently explained to my son that my degree helps me be a better parent because I can teach him more, advocate for him better and be able to help him make choices about his life. But I don't believe every kid will choose college and shouldn't we be giving kids options?

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teachers versus Parents; Is One More Important than the Other?

There had been an op-ed piece in the Times about what is needed for good education, namely, good teachers that are assessed regularly. Then, as a follow-up, a Federal Way administrator suggest parents aren't serious about telling their kids the realities of learning i.e. it's hard work.

It's an interesting take because the WASL was originally developed to assess teachers, not students. This is not to say that teachers don't likely get feedback from WASL results but I'm not sure what is in place to help teachers whose classes score below standard.

Also, I've always thought that parents are the third rail of education but, as we all know as parents (and teachers probably know really well), you can't critizize another parent's parenting. And, what I think is good parenting re;education, you might think is overkill (or lax). The Federal Way administrator thinks that the Singapore way might be better and that kids should feel obligated to do well for their parents and, to some extent, the greater society. And, that we are permissive parents and allow too much technology fun for our kids. (I plead guilty to that to some extent.)

But he ends with something like "learning is not supposed to be easy or fun". I'd agree; I think when you are really interested in something, it sets you on fire and times flies but mostly, it's hard work.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Every School a Good School

There’s a lot of talk about making every school a good school. According to the talk, if we do that, then almost everyone will just send their child to the neighborhood school and we will have diversity, uniformly high academic achievement, reduced transportation costs, and no more capacity or assignment issues. I write “almost everyone” because students with special needs and students seeking alternative education or special programs may or may not be enrolled at their neighborhood school.

First of all, I don't believe it. Even if every school is regarded as a "good" school, there will be differences and people will have preferences which will outweigh proximity. There still won't be a high school option for families in Queen Anne and Magnolia and there still won't be enough elementary capacity in Eastlake and Capitol Hill. You can be sure that many neighborhood schools will not be diverse.

Despite all of the talk, the District has not demonstrated any ability to make any impact – positive or negative – on school quality. Who can name a time when the District made a school into a good school? Near as I can figure, the only people who ever get any credit for turning a school into a good school are principals who inspire a team of teachers towards an effective Vision. Ben Wright did it when he was at Thurgood Marshall. Hajara Rahim did it at Van Asselt. Pat Hunter does it at Maple. There are, of course, others. Individual teachers can do it for their classes as Anitra Pinchback did it when she was at AAA. They all did something different, but the common theme for them all was to set high expectations and maintain them. They support students to reach those expectations, but they don’t ever drop the expectations.

This is clearly what works in practice. Setting and maintaining high expectations appears to be the key. The District pays a lot of lip service to this idea, but I’ve never seen them actually take any action in support of it. I’m not sure what action they could take. How would they hold principals accountable for setting and maintaining high expectations? What consequences could they impose on those who don’t? Could they actually fire the ones who don’t do it? I’m not sure they could; the principals have a union, you know. How would they hold teachers accountable for setting and maintaining high expectations? What consequences could they impose on those who don’t? Could they actually fire the ones who don’t do it? I’m not sure they could; the teachers have a union, too.

In public K-12 education it may not be possible to hold the adults accountable, but it is possible to hold the students accountable. It's upside-down accountability because they are the people with the least power to change the system, but it is the accountability that is possible. The District could effect this type of accountability for setting and maintaining those high expectations by writing and enforcing a strict promotion / non-promotion policy. Unfortunately, they lack the political will and courage for that. It will be hard for them to stick to their principles when, in the first year, about half of the students are not promoted and about 80% of the black students are not promoted (WASL math pass rates for African American 6th grade students in 2006: 19.9%, for all students: 49.3%). There is going to be a serious upset in the community when four out of five black students are not promoted to the next grade. There is going to be a lot of talk about disproportionate outcomes and institutional racism.

Of course, this will make the percieved differences in school quality a whole lot worse before it makes it any better. Imagine the consequences on choice when 80% of a third grade class at a school fails to be promoted. Who would choose that school for their child? Who would be happy with that assignment? Particularly when another school promotes 80% of their third graders under the same rigorous criteria. What will it do to class sizes?

Is there anything else the District could do to help make every school a good school?

White Privilege Conference?

This article from the Times. Not sure if many folks had heard about this, I read about it on a conservative blog. I am very disappointed the money came from the Small Learning Communities grant because I don't get the connection between this convention and SLC. The district may have misstepped here and it's one more problem for Ms Hollins and her department.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Proposed Changes to the Assignment Plan

As a follow-up to the previous post, here's a short piece from Michael DeBell with thoughts about proposed changes to the assignment plan. I've also copied the 6 proposed policy changes below for reference.

This is a difficult, emotional topic, and I appreciate Michael's willingness to put a draft plan out and solicit public feedback.
*************

Long waitlists and perilously under-enrolled schools indicate we are not using the best assignment policy for our city. I wrote a preliminary essay/plan that I hope will move the discussion forward, help us start talking about changes and tradeoffs.

Sibling and distance tie breakers offer virtually no citywide choice for popular high schools. Equal access to the specialty programs are particularly concerning, so the set-aside seats are a starting point to address this issue.

Some urban, open choice districts have adopted automatic triggers for low enrollment schools resulting in reconstitution, consolidation or closure. An annual Superintendent's report and plan for change presented to the School Board is a less contentious step in that direction.

I am assuming that predictability and inclusion of new arrivers will help to gradually stabilize enrollment patterns and improve SPS market share. I also assume that a systematic solution to the achievement gap will come from the academic model not the assignment plan.

I appreciate the many contributors to this blog which I read regularly. --- Michael

***********
Suggested Policy Changes (from Michael DeBell's draft plan on student assignment)

1. Reduce elementary school options from the entire cluster to three or four schools with some range of programs.

2. Draw reference area boundaries for middle and high schools with assurance of enrollment if that school is a first choice. All schools with excess demand would set aside 10%-20% (depending on research results) of seats for open choice by citywide lottery.

3. Enrollment in the reference area school is available year round to newly arriving families.

4.The goals of the assignment plan will also include minimizing transportation costs, simplicity, predictability and ease of access to enrollment in SPS.

5. The District must annually examine capacity and demand at all schools. Any site that is below 50% of planning capacity will be examined by the Superintendent who will report to the Board and develop a plan to improve or consolidate the school. In areas which have insufficient seats for demand the Superintendent will present a plan to the board for increasing capacity.

6. Program placement will be integrated into assignment plan development to provide a range of pedagogical choices for each geographic region of the city.

Michael deBell's Preliminary Assignment Thoughts

This document was posted at Roosevelt's Bulletin area. I briefly read through it and haven't had time to contemplate it yet so I'm not offering any opinions. He does touch on a number of issues and I give him credit for taking a stand and putting it out there.

I would stress, as I suspect Michael would, this is early work. As Brita Butler-Wall has posted, this work is being done now by the staff and the Board. Michael mentioned to me at a superintendent interview forum that public discussion is likely to be scheduled for fall.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What's happened to Hale?

My son graduated from Hale last year. (He was very happy and content there; as parents we had problems with the new principal and the direction Hale was going in.) When we were looking at high schools for him, Hale was one of the most sought-after schools with a great principal. It still has very high WASL scores. I bring this up because Linda Thomas' blog at the Seattle PI was discussing private schools (it was a bit abstract and I wasn't sure if she was talking about K-12 or post). There was a complaint (again) about lack of seats at Roosevelt and I suggested Hale open up more seats (they are way under capacity by choice). Here's what one person replied:

"No one, repeat no one, on the wait list for Roosevelt, Ballard or Garfield wants their kids to attend Hale. Zero. Let that sink in for a moment. Your answer to this sounds like it comes from some ex-Soviet commissar. And people wonder why so many people sacrifice so much money to send their kids to private schools instead. If Hale could attract more students, that would be different.

The people on the wait lists for Roosevelt, Ballard and Garfield want the kind of school programs offered at Roosevelt, Ballard and Garfield, or better. Offering them Hale or West Seattle or Franklin will not attract them to SPS. Forcing them to Hale will not work because they've already looked at Hale and decided not to send their kids there. They will leave the district rather than do as you suggest."

Franklin used to be considered a top high school in early 2000-2001. What the heck has happened to these schools? What is it that is driving people away (largely) into the arms of Garfield and Roosevelt (and to a lesser degree, Ballard)? I think I know some of the answers but let me know. More importantly, we need to let the district know what parents want in a high school and what, as the writer above says, is driving parents away.

Education Meetups In May

This from the Washington branch of the Appleseed Foundation, a non-profit group that promotes systemic change using citizen advocates and pro bono lawyers.


Host a Spring Meet-up and Take on School District Governance in May 2007

Discussions around Seattle school district governance will take center stage during Spring Meet-Ups sponsored by Washington Appleseed and CPPS in May.

Using living rooms and lunch rooms, we will bring voters together to discuss current and future issues on school district leadership and governance.

Want to Host? We need volunteers to bring the discussion to your corner of the city from May 9th to 12th.

You will have everything you need for lively discussion around these important issues. We provide the training, discussion guide, feedback form and more. You supply the venue and invite 10 to 15 of your friends and colleagues over to talk.

Spring Meet-Ups will be provided with background on school district governance, the roles of superintendent and school boards, what cities across the nation do for school governance, and where we are in Seattle. Then the discussion begins. What do we want for Seattle? What is the best fit for us?

Contact Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, Senior Fellow at Washington Appleseed, at BSchaadL@comcast.net to host or to get more information. Or call Barbara at 206-938-0608.

Meet-Ups sponsored by:

Washington Appleseed

Community & Parents for Public Schools Seattle

Schools First

Ed in '08

Linda Thomas has a reader blog in the PI on education and it can be very interesting (and funny). Today she posts about an initiative from - who else?- Bill and Melinda Gates and others on the candidates for President and their education stands. It's called Ed in '08 and here's a link to their site. Here are their 3 basic starting places for what needs to happen in American education:

American education standards

Regardless of where they live, all students need to acquire knowledge and skills that prepare them to be successful adults. From New Hampshire to Nevada, every student deserves a strong curriculum in subjects like math and English. Learn more.

Effective teachers in every classroom

We need to enable teachers to improve their skills, measure teachers’ performance in the classroom, and pay them more if they produce superior results or take on challenging assignments. Learn more.

More time and support for learning

We need to provide successful and struggling students alike more time for in-depth learning and greater personal attention. Learn more.

Okay, that sounds good. But, for example, when they speak of national standards, they say they don't mean national curriculum. However, if we have national standards but still have 50 different curriculums (with 50 different assessments), how do we, as a nation, know how our students are doing in any real and definitive way? That's one of the major flaws in NCLB and exposes that the administration is more interested in vast amounts of testing and not results because if they wanted to know how the kids are doing, we'd have one national test.

Ed in '08 never directly address NCLB so it's hard to know what they would want to hear from candidates. They provide links to all the candidates websites. I went to roughly 2/3 of them with interesting results. Out of 10, only 1 had more than a paragraph. That would be Senator Chris Dodd's page. He actually has background in education legislation with a particular interest in children with disabilities.

The Republicans use the word "choice" a lot which likely means charters and vouchers.

And Senators McCain, Clinton, Edwards and Governor Richardson? Not one single word. Very sad.

The only other person besides Dodd that spoke at length (with ideas) is Obama. He advocates bonuses for teachers who take more challenging schools, summer learning and federal college loans.

So should education be in the top 5 or top 10 issues for a presidential candidate? What would you want to hear? Rehaul of NCLB? National standards? A national program to educate and recruit new teachers? Higher pay/bonuses for teachers who accept challenging schools or who consistently perform better? More money towards longer school years/hours?

Last word: I greatly admire Mr. and Mrs. Gates and I believe they will change the face of health care internationally. That said, making a lot of money doesn't make you an expert on all things. The Gates' foray out into education (and having a non-educator be their first overseer) hasn't been very successful. The jury is still out on whether the Gates' transformation money did much real transforming and whether the small high school initiative (school within a school, etc) played out well (particularly in NYC where resources are scarce and schools within schools duke it out). The Gates' will never have their children in public schools and there's just a little too much of "we know what's best for you" for my taste.

Fun and Free to do with the Kids

FYI about Seattle Art Museum

Grand Opening Weekend
35-Hour Grand Opening Marathon!
May 5, 2007
10 a.m.–11:59 p.m.
Simonyi Special Exhibition Gallery


The Seattle Art Museum will be open for 35 hours straight as it kicks off the grand opening of the newly expanded downtown facility! Come in the wee hours of the morning to experience SAM in a completely unique way. You never know what you’ll see!

Festivities will include:
• Live dance and music performances featuring cultures from around the globe
• A variety of art activities for kids and adults
• Photos with Sammy the Camel
• Limited-edition gifts designed by Olympic Sculpture Park artists for sale
• Great food and refreshments available

Admission is free all weekend but will require entry tickets with specific times. Tickets will be available on site only on May 5 and 6. There will be no advance tickets.

Watch what they do, not what they say

At yesterday's Student Learning Committee meeting, Ms Santorno told the Committee that the Superintendent will postpone his decision to split middle school APP. She told them that the District is very busy with a number of other tasks and that this matter can be addressed later as it is not urgent.

I would like to direct the attention of the public, the Board, and any future board members to how Mr. Manhas and his staff conducted themselves throughout this affair.

First of all, they refused to engage the community throughout. They refused to meet with the APP Advisory Committee. When they did meet, they refused to talk. They refused to participate in any dialog at all. For ten months, the District staff refused to answer even the most fundamental questions about the process. Staff, including Ms Santorno, promised to share their thinking with the community – they never did. They never consulted with the APP community, the Washington community, or the Hamilton community. They did not include public input as a factor in their decision. We know this because they provided a decision-making tool and it did not include public input. Even when asked for a more complete and detailed listing of the pros and cons of their decision, public input was not inlcuded as a factor in the decision.

Second, when the Superintendent and his staff produced their decision it was in direct violation with District Policy. They didn’t bother to check the Policy as part of their process. When confronted with their policy violation, they claimed that they are not bound by Policy.

The Superintendent claims that he wants to make the District’s culture more open, honest, transparent, engaged and accountable. Not one of those values was represented at any time in this process. In fact, I cannot think of a single instance in which Mr. Manhas or his staff ever did a single thing in support of these values. It seems to me that the Board is responsible for every improvement we have made in these directions.

So look and notice well, Board members. Look and notice well future Board members. The Superintendent and his staff routinely ignore Policies. The Board is a policymaking body. If the Policies are ignored, then the Board is superfluous. The staff truly believe themselves unaccountable to the Board.

The Superintendent and his staff do not act in support of the values they claim to hold. They do not act in support of the Vision set forth by the Board. They are contemptuous of the Board.

Even now, after the Board Review revealed the grotesque failure represented by this decision, the Superintendent and his staff are only postponing it. They haven’t taken one step away from it. They aren’t even leaning away from it. Their arrogance is breathtaking.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

High School Musicals

The Times had an interesting article about high school musicals in our area. I'm somewhat aware of this issue as I have a student at Roosevelt (but he's not in the drama scene). The article talks about how the average high school musical costs about $10,000 and some of them locally have cost upwards of $60,000 (this at Blanchet, a Catholic high school). The money generally comes from alums and parent boosters. The article also notes that Rainier Beach will put on The Wiz for about $1,000 (they have, what is arguably, the nicest performing arts hall in SPS).

You can chalk this up to "oh well, that's just the way it is"; some schools have more resources from alums and parents than others. Roosevelt has a long history of putting on plays and musicals so this isn't some new thing. But I think high schools, at different points in their history, have always put on plays (with musicals tending to be a lot more expensive to stage).

I bring this up both to ask the question, "Is this fair? Does it matter?" and to ask "Is it a good thing to have so much attention/resources/efforts focused on non-core academics?" Athletics and arts are a major way to keep kids involved in high school so they are wonderful at keeping some kids in school. Is it important to have what would be considered (in athletic terms) schools that are farm teams for music and drama? Should that be important for high schools to have in this age of deep concern over academics?

I'll end with a letter to the Times on this issue that has another take on this issue:

" 'High school musicals' on the escalating costs of high-school drama productions, provides yet another example of how American adults are chipping away at the experience of being a child.

Biologically and psychologically, humans are engineered to go through a staged lifecycle. Our nation's adults are short-circuiting that natural process. Our economic greed drives us to view them, not as children, but as a market to be sold increasingly adult products. Interweaving our adult egos with their activities, we deny them the joy of experiencing unstructured play by making winning the objective of all activity.

As adults, we seek personal recognition and a furthering of our own ambitions by demanding that they perform as professionals, not the curious and exploring amateurs that they naturally are. All of this represents a massive failure of our needed role as grounded, sensible adults in the lives of our children. This failure does not come without consequences.

Modern medicine is allowing people to live much longer lives. Our children will have plenty of time to live ambition-driven, stressed-out lives and to lust after endless consumer products.
If, as a society, we genuinely loved our children, we would allow them to enjoy a few years of innocence unencumbered by our frenetic adult pathology.

— Dick Schwartz, Bellevue

Monday, April 23, 2007

No Math/Science WASL grad requirement until 2013

At the end of this year's legislative session, it was voted to suspend use of the math/science portions of the WASL until 2013 according to an article in the Seattle Times.

If I can get this right, no class has ever had to pass the math, reading and writing portions of the WASL to graduation. I believe that was to start in 2008. The state is up to about 85% of students passing the reading and writing WASL and so, starting with the class of 2008, all seniors will have had to take and pass the reading and writing portions of the WASL to graduate. Only 56% of sophomores had passed the math WASL and just 38% passed the science WASL. (Just to keep in mind; if you don't take and pass the WASL, you cannot be issued a diploma and graduate with your class in the state of Washington. However, very few colleges or universities require a diploma to enroll. UW doesn't.)

The bill has a provision that would allow the state Board of Education to set an earlier date for either test. The Board of Education is likely to hear from the business community which stands behind the use of the WASL. From the article:
"Steve Mullin, president of the Washington Roundtable, an association of corporate executives, said the bill has too long of a delay for the math and science WASL requirements. "We'll be urging a full veto," he said."

The bill also requires the state Board of Education to study the prospect of replacing the math and science WASL tests with end-of-course assessments.

The governor has said she favors delaying the math and science portions but not the reading and writing portions. It is not known how she feels about end-of-courses assessments (such as in New York state where they have what are called Regents exams for single subjects).

I'm not against assessments. I just think the WASL is not the best test and needs tweaking. It is also a very expensive test at $18 per portion which works out to between $58-72 per student, depending on grade level. It's hard for me to believe we could not assess students for less cost (and plow that money back into the classroom). For example, the normative test, ITBS (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) was considered at gold standard for its type of test (multiple choice, scored by a machine) and cost about $3 per student. I sure wish there was some in-between test that cost less and was less reading and writing based in the math portions. (I've never gone to check out what the science portions are like. Anybody out there who has?)

I get when people say (especially business) that students graduating high school should be able to do sophomore level work. I'm not for letting kids off the hook.

One last thing; I wish there were a civics/lifeskills portion to the WASL. Kids need to know basic information (which we teach to immigrants before they can become citizens) about being an American citizen like how often we vote for President (senators, representatives) what is the Electoral college, why are 3 branches of government important, what are the Bill of Rights are, how to write a resume, etc.

Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement

At long last the District is ready to hire a Coordinator of Family and Community Engagement. This person will be responsible for developing, implementing, coordinating, and aligning the District's family involvement and community engagement activities and efforts in collaboration with other District staff within programs and schools. This constitutes a quarter of the Strategic Framework released in the Fall. Since no one has been in this position, that work has not been started yet. While I don't know the reason for the delay, I'm sure that every day of it was absolutely necessary.

I have contacted Lin Carlson and volunteered to serve on the hiring committee for this position. I strongly encourage others to do the same. Of course the District will want to have lots of community members serving on the hiring committee for the community engagement job. Please, please, please, offer to serve on the hiring committee for this job.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Commentary in Seattle Times

Bruce Ramsey wrote a very good editorial in today's paper about the way math is taught. As a high school math teacher, I see the failure of "fuzzy math" everyday. Students don't learn the basics, so they don't have the foundation to "discover" anything and even if they do "discover" something, they don't know what it means because they don't know the basics or have the fundamentals down. The Seattle School District is working on a district wide math adoption for all the high schools and the last I heard two of the three finals are IMP and Core Plus, both of which are "fuzzy math" curriculums. We will be doing a serious disservice to our students (especially the students below grade level), if IMP or Core Plus becomes the math curriculum for SPS. These programs don't stress the basics enough. In math, you need to know how to walk before you can run. You have to know how to divide fractions before you can work on the equation of a line or factor a polynomial equation.

New-age math doesn't add up

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Mercer Island teens and the big picture

Interesting but not surprising article in today's Times about a researcher studying Mercer Island teens. I found the outcomes familiar but I worry about my son NOT doing enough to look good on a college app (with applications up and it being very competitive to get into many colleges and universities including UW). I don't want to pressure him too much but he'll need more than his good looks and soccer to get into a decent college (and here's hoping he keeps those grades up).

Friday, April 20, 2007

Are We Too Old School?

A post from the discussion about people who left for private school got me to thinking about another issue. What about kids, their dress and their behavior? Someone mentioned how on a tour of AS#1, they saw behavior they didn't like. When my older son first went to Eckstein, I was very surprised at how some kids dressed and behaved.

What did I see at Eckstein? A lot of girls with pajama bottoms, midriffs or, worse, visible thongs. Baggy pants on the boys (which, of course, induced laughter in me because of the odd way the boys have to walk to keep them up). Eckstein does have a dress code which does get enforced. (Principal Campbell has a set of oversized, ugly tees for the girls who have problems covering up. Not much fun to wear one of them all day.) I also heard a lot of mouthiness from kids which really surprised me. I know now that Eckstein is pretty normal and actually not half as bad as some other schools. (And if you don't have a middle schooler, just wait.)

Here's where the old school part of me comes in (or maybe just the old). When I was in school, we did not talk back to adults. Any adult, not just teachers. We did not attempt to just walk away when an adult was talking to us (and let me say, nearly all kids I have encountered in middle and high school try this). We did not argue about what we were going to do next in class or moan (at least outloud) about homework. So when I first went to Eckstein as a volunteer and tutor and encountered students who did this stuff, I was shocked.

Okay, so what's happening? Is it parenting? Could be, although I have wonder if half these kids would pull this stuff with their parents. (Although someone has to be paying for the clothes so at some level parents have some responsibility.) One thing I discovered is this about schools and teachers; there may be a dress code, a code about Ipods, cell phones, etc. but is it enforced? Nope. Many teachers have come to the conclusion that some battles are not worth fighting about or they don't want to be considered a pain. So, at Eckstein, even though there is a no headphones rule, many teachers allow kids to listen to music either while either doing silent reading or doing individual work. Some teachers will call kids on their dress and others just don't want to be bothered or more likely, just don't want to get into it. So you have kids getting mixed signals and more likely to push the envelope simply because there is no across-the-board enforcement.

Here's another example. In most elementaries, there are sponges on the tables and kids have to clean up after themselves before they can go to recess after lunch. However, this ends in middle school so at Eckstein, at least, it can look like a hurricane after lunch. This may be because they don't have enough adults to tell kids, "Pick up after yourself." The few adults there have enough to do just monitoring behavior in the cafeteria.

At Eckstein (and likely most other middle schools) there is a no hat rule. No hats, no bandanas, no chains on the pants and no sunglasses. So my son gets to Roosevelt and yes, they wear hats, bandanas and sunglasses. I asked one teacher about it because I would think it might bother a teacher to not be able to see a kid's face. She said she just didn't want to fight that battle and some kids do it when they are having an off day and don't want to look at anyone.

(I thought about this issue of seeing someone's face with the Virginia Tech tragedy. The shooter frequently wore sunglasses to class and would not speak when spoken to. It certainly made his professors uneasy and I have to wonder how long he had been doing it. Since high school?)

I remember touring Salmon Bay and noticing a lot of gum chewing. Surprising because it normally is not allowed at most schools. I asked about it and was told by the principal that it was a teacher decision. Frankly, it put me off.

So, what is too old school? Is it too old school to want kids to dress as though they are at school and not at home in their rooms? (And if you don't think a 15-year boy sitting behind a girl with a pink thong isn't distracting, then what is?) Should students be required to show their faces in class? Why would a teacher not send a student out who is swearing? Is there a gray area in schools among allowances for teen angst, teen oppositional behavior and just bad behavior? Who decides? The teacher? The principal? And if your child is at an alternative school, does that mean alternative behavior?

I don't know the answers. Like a lot of things involving parents and schools, we bring our own set of experiences and expectations to the table. Clearly, things have stood out to a lot of your during school tours.

What are your expectations about behavior in schools?

Roosevelt

I may be jumping into a hornet's nest here but there's a lot of confusion and anger out there over high school assignments. (I may be repeating a few things I said elsewhere but I want to paint a full picture.)

I was at a Site Council meeting at Roosevelt last night and learned that the waitlist, including all grades not just 9th, is over 400. That's a lot of disappointed people.

The big issue that each and every one of us needs to get, that no enrollment plan can fairly address, is that we live in a geographically challenged city. Period.

Wednesday night I was at a PTSA meeting where the changed to Metro was discussed and a scatter map of eligible students given out. I was surprised at how many students come from Magnolia/QA/SE. But that will change in the coming years. Here's why.

First, a little review. When a school is overenrolled, a series of tiebreakers kick in. The first (and most obvious) is sibling. Then, it's region (except high school is an all-city draw so the city is the region). Then distance. Then lottery.

I think what happened this year (and maybe for a few more) is a perfect storm of conditions. New building for an academically successful school with great programs. More private school parents noticing this and applying to get in. The last of the siblings from students who were probably the last ones to use the racial tiebreaker are coming in from all directions. The distance circle got smaller as the sibs/private school students/closest distance students all converged.
But those sibs from other parts of the city are likely to be the last ones to get into Roosevelt. It will become a largely NE, above the ship canal school in the coming years.

But the NE didn't just suddenly sprout teenagers. Roosevelt will likely continue to be successful and continue to draw in private school students.

So what's the answer? It's not packing more students in. The school is already overenrolled, not enough money for everyone who wants a 6-period day to have one, not enough lockers, etc.

So two things could happen. One, the enrollment below the ship canal will ease, allowing more NE students in. (If it doesn't, then I would wonder what was happening and think the district needs to look at each enrollment application from south of the ship canal carefully.) Two, Hale could (and should) open its doors to more students. I don't know how they think they can continue (especially after they get renovated thanks to BEX III) as a 1050-1100 seat school. It's just not fair to Roosevelt to have to continue to expand as Hale holds the line.

I do wonder why Ingraham (according to what I have heard) has no waitlist. It's a pretty good school with a good IB program. Both Hale and Ingraham are comprehensive high schools so there should be a solution to this problem.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

District Property Management

In today's Queen Anne News is an article concerning the district's property management: Plan to sell old QA school property triggers hearings.

Last month, other articles about district property management included:

Sell or rent 5 schools; hold on to the rest, land manager says (PI)
District to weigh plans for closed school sites (PI)


The Seattle School District's Closed Facilities Policy was last revised in November 1997, and is posted at: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/policies/h/H02.00.pdf.

I'm not sure what the district should do with the closed facilities, but I don't believe the school district staff should be spending as much time on property management as they do. I believe one of the CACIEE recommendations was to contract out property management to skilled professionals. Did that recommendation ever go anywhere?

Comeback for Seattle Schools?

This article by David Brewster was in the April 12th Crosscuts. I think he makes some valid points. Whether you believe Cheryl Chow's strong leadership is a good thing or bad thing depends on how you like her style. She gives the appearance of being willing to walk over anyone who gets in her way.

He gives kudos to Board candidates Peter Meier and Sherry Carr. I agree with some of the comments following the article about Peter. Peter is a bright, qualified person but I have never heard him give one opinion of his own about the district. He has worked on Schools First for a long time which required him to parrot anything staff told him about facilities. It would be important to go to candidate forums and get him to give an opinion before believing he would be a good Board member. Brewster also says Meier wants to "stay the course" on strategy. Great and what has that non-discernable strategy been so far?

He ends with this:

"Would a smart, coherent board be enough? Hard to say. Experts say that no large urban district with an elected board has been able to sustain the hard reforms needed for enough years to make a real difference. Boards turn over frequently, fall into factions that grind up superintendents, lack key skills. Appointed boards at least promise more stability and more careful assignment of role players with the right skills. But who can really imagine taking away public votes on School Board elections? Mayor Nickels and former Mayor Rice toy with the idea and back off. State Sen. Ed Murray, the Seattle Democrat, introduced a bill in the current session of the Legislature to move toward, or at least threaten, an appointed board. It went nowhere fast."

I think a smart, coherent board would be enough if they worked together on a clear, focused strategy with a superintendent who could enact what the Board directs her to do. But all would be lost if the Board and the superintendent do not listen to parents about what they want to see in public schools. From past discussions that sounds like quality schools in all areas of the city, a more coherent enrollment plan and duplication of programs that parents favor.

Super's Contract Okayed

From the Times:

"The Seattle School Board on Wednesday approved a contract with Maria Goodloe-Johnson, selected last week to be the district's next superintendent.

The three-year contract pays Goodloe-Johnson $240,000 a year. In addition, she will receive $20,000 per year in a retirement fund and a $700-a-month car allowance.

The current superintendent, Raj Manhas, earns $178,000 a year, with no contribution to a retirement fund.

Goodloe-Johnson has yet to sign the contract, but she is expected to do so. The contract vote was 6-0; board member Darlene Flynn was not present."

Well, the Board managed to negotiate to the very end of the pay scale plus benefits.

Change on the School Board

According to this article in Crosscut, Irene Stewart will not be seeking re-election to the School Board.

Irene Stewart says she won't seek a second term on the Seattle School Board

APP Split is Off! ...for now

In a rare victory for reason and community, the Superintendent's decision to resolve the overcrowding at Washington Middle School by dividing middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton has been put on hold.

There won't be any formal announcement until the Student Learning Committee meets on April 24, but in an email today, Director Brita Butler-Wall told Stephanie Bower, the chair of the APP Advisory Committee:

"I met with Carla yesterday. At SLC on the 24th she will be making a brief statement about her original recommendation to add an APP site to the effect that she is going to put it on hold given the context: new supe coming, new assignment plan in the works, program reviews not completed yet. She will also give a timeline for any further decisions and outline a process so that parents etc. will have enough notice to be able to give input in a timely fashion. I believe she is looking at tabling this concept for a year or so."

For the record, the community had plenty of TIME to provide input. We tried to provide input from March to October. Six months is plenty of time. The problem was that no one at the District was listening to the input. They held us at arm's length and refused to have any kind of conversation with us at any time.

The APP Advisory Committee never came out either for or against the split. The committee only said that they didn't have enough information to make a judgement. The Board never came out either for or against the split. They were conducting the review required by District Policy when the Superintendent withdrew the decision.

I expect that the District staff will quickly offer a revised District Policy D12.00 for Highly Capable Student Programs - one that does not require Board review of any decisions. Then they will come right back with this rejected idea, but without anyone to question it. If they are lucky, they will have a new Board and a new Superintendent who won't know the history and won't find it at all suspicious.

This idea has been rejected... for now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson Not Yet Hired

The hiring of Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson has apparently not yet been finalized. Makes me wonder whether there are serious roadblocks to finalizing the contract, or whether this is just the inevitable slow grind of Seattle School District bureaucracy.

Assuming it's the latter issue, I hope our incoming superintendent listens to the couriercritic blogger who says her advice for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson in Seattle is "..for her to try to be more down-to-earth, more receptive to criticism, and more ready to admit mistakes.

School Board Meeting Tonight

On the "Introduction Items" section of the agenda of the Seattle School Board meeting tonight is Resolution 2006/07-13, Authorization for a Reduction in Force. Apparently, the district is anticipating the need to lay off "certificated staff." Does anyone know whether the plan is to lay off teachers? or other certificated staff? or both?

The "Public Testimony" section of the agenda is dominated by people testifying about military recruiters. (14 out of 20 slots). Maggie Metcalfe is going to testify about public access to the superintendent search process, Chris Jackins is going to testify about Garfield construction costs, and the three remaining slots are about the New School, student assignment, and math.

The meeting is from 6 pm to 8 pm at the Stanford Center. However, as Melissa Westbrook mentioned earlier, a public hearing on the use of I-728 funds is scheduled prior to this meeting, from 5:00 pm to 5:15 pm. I'm not able to attend either meeting tonight, but would appreciate hearing from those who do.

9th Graders taking the WASL

This article was in today's PI about 9th graders being able to take the 10th grade WASL. The number doubled this year from about 6500 last year to over 14,000 this year. My son was one of them. He took the Reading and Writing. (We decided against the math and science. He hasn't had year-round science and we decided to check out the 9th grade practice WASL in math first even though my son is in honors math.) He thought the reading and writing were easy. My husband and I just thought he might as well get it out of the way and be able to do more work on other subjects next year.

It does count as one of the tries but if, on the other hand, you really wanted to see how your student was doing, taking it sooner could be an early warning system especially if your student scored 1s instead of2s or 3s.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why Families Go from Public to Private

Some recent comments about why families who are in Seattle Public Schools move to private schools provide important insights for the district and our new superintendent as they work to increase the percentage of children who attend public school in Seattle.

Several of the comments are excerpted below, and I'd like to hear from more families. If you used to have your kids in Seattle Public Schools, but don't anymore, tell us why. What could convince you to come back? And what could have prevented you from leaving?

From Andrew:
As far as I can tell, the district has done little or no research on why parents choose private instead of public. I've heard from a couple of different sources that next year might be particularly bad -- e.g. I was told that some private schools have claimed that private middle school applications were up over 50% this year! (I have no idea if that data is valid, but anecdotally, I know many active public schools families that have decided to go private... more than I've ever heard of before.) I think a little research in this area will turn up some very clear deficiencies in the system that can and should be addressed.

From Deidre:
In regards to why people go private, I am guessing that there are many reasons, but I will tell you our story. When our son went to kindergarten we lived in the Central area, and our neighborhood school was Leschi, which at that time was a dismal choice (for us). We liked Montlake, Stevens and McGilvra, but had heard that it was almost impossible to get your student into these schools if you didn't live in the neighborhood. In fact that year Stevens filled all of their kindergarten seats with sib's and were not able to take even one new family! We felt forced to either move to a different part of the city or go private. Though it was a hardship for us, and against what we believed in we went private for two years, until we moved to the NE part of Seattle, and transferred into public school. This year we applied for our son to go to Eckstein, our neighborhood middle school (2 miles away), and he didn't get in. He is on the waitlist. We don't think that Summit, AS1 or Hamilton are good fits for our son, and can't comfortably afford private. So, we enrolled him at Kellogg MS in Shoreline, they had space for us and we are not even in their district. They have 690 kids, rival Ecksteins academics (test scores), have a fabulous band, full year science at all grade levels, honors classes in all 4 core subjects (self elected), and every student gets an ibook laptop. We were very impressed, and are taking full advantage. While I would not like to see choice go away, I do think that families need some type of predictability. We will probably have to stay in Shoreline for High school too. One of the reasons we chose this neighborhood was so our son could go to Eckstein and Roosevelt. We didn't get into Eckstein, and it looks like we won't be able to get into Roosevelt either. We live 2.18 miles away from Roosevelt, but according to enrollment services this year, you had to live within 1.81 miles of the building to get in. Our only other neighborhood HS is Hale, and they don't have a great band program (very important to my son), and no AP classes. So off to Shoreline we go, or private perhaps. Either way, Seattle has lost us.

From Anonymous:
I can contribute to why the school district loses so many middle schoolers - at least in NE Seattle. For the most part, everyone I know in public is very happy with their neighborhood elementary school. The problem I've heard is people like Eckstein, but they don't like how HUGE it is. They are satisfied with Eckstein caliber, but what I've heard over and over is some kids do great at Eckstein, but at the very vulnerable age of middle school, if your child is very quiet/not really social, they will become lost there. I know a number of families who pulled their kids out of Eckstein and sent them to private middle school with the full intention of sending them to public again for high school. As a mom of young elementary, I only hear the stories. I've heard some scary/intimidating ones, but I've also heard very positive stories. Most of the positive stories come from parents of very social children. I know families who Eckstein fits for 1 of their children and not the other.I know a number of families who went private for elementary school, not because they were unhappy with their neighborhood schools, but because they didn't want to worry about the Middle school issue because of stories they'd heard, and thus prefer the K-8 model. I plan to evaluate Eckstein for each of my 3 children when the time comes (we live .93 miles away, so I'm not worried about not getting in that one). I'm personally hoping there is change and improvement before then. I don't even want to think about the Roosevelt issue yet (if we can't get into a high school that we live 2 miles away from, there is an issue somewhere).

Monday, April 16, 2007

WASL Testing

In honor of the first day of WASL testing, here are a few interesting facts about the WASL, along with links to resources, sample test questions, and other information.

From the OSPI WASL FAQ:
  • How do students who are English Language Learners (ELL) participate in the WASL tests? All students who are ELL must participate in all WASL tests scheduled for their grades regardless of the number of years they have been in the U.S. The only exception is students who are in their first year of enrollment in U.S. schools. These students are not required to participate in reading or writing tests, but they must take the math exam [emphasis added]. In addition to participating in WASL, ELL students must take annually the Washington Language Proficiency Test - II (WLPT-II) in reading, writing, speaking and listening.

    This is problematic since the math exam requires a lot of reading and writing- BAB.

From the Mothers Against WASL FAQ:

  • How do I request that my child be excused from participating in WASL? To opt your child out of WASL, simply write a letter to your district superintendent and your child’s principal or fill out the form below and turn it in to your child’s principal and district superintendent. A follow-up call to your child’s school is a good idea, also.

From an April 11th KOMO-TV news story:

  • Lawmakers have already voted to delay the math requirement from 2008 through 2012, provided the affected students take additional math courses. And the requirement to pass the science WASL in order to graduate would be delayed from the class of 2010 to the class of 2013. A letter signed by 35 district superintendents was sent earlier this week to encourage lawmakers to support an amendment that would delay the reading and writing requirement to the class of 2010...It's a huge issue of equity," Soria said. "I don't know that we have successfully been able to convince the legislators the huge factor that poverty plays in how students perform."

Resources

Some companies are, of course, making money on selling WASL prep materials, both print and online. One company, however, is providing it for free: Digital Learning Commons.

And for the kids' perspective on the WASL see: Kent School District 5th graders' video tips for taking the WASL.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

FYI

Saw that there is a 15-minute "Public Hearing" from 5:00-5:15 p.m. this Wednesday before the regular Board meeting at 6 p.m. The subject is I-728. Since it's so short, I would assume it's a legally necessary meeting for them to vote on something but it's not on the agenda so I don't know what it is about.

Also, a parent, Harium Martin-Morris, has announced he is running against Brita Butler-Wall in district III. I know him slightly as he was the PTSA president at Hale for a couple of years while my son was there. He has both a teaching certificate and an MBA. I thought that he tended to side with the principal and teachers more than supporting parent concerns but he's a pretty calm and level-headed person.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's First 100 Days in Seattle

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's "Entry Plan" has been posted on the Seattle Times site so you can read the full list of tasks she wants to accomplish during her first 100 days in Seattle.

Comment on or add to that list. Which tasks do you think are top priorities? What would you like her to read or study? And what kind of community interaction would be most meaningful and useful?

I'll collect the comments and then send them to the superintendent feedback e-mail address.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Education Policy Updates

With all the focus on the superintendent search this week, several other education-releated topics have gotten much less coverage.

School levies
From the PI's A simple majority for levies? It's voters' call


The state Senate voted Thursday to ask voters to eliminate the state constitutional requirement of a 60 percent supermajority for school levy approval. The Senate vote was 33-16, barely enough for the two-thirds needed for passage. Since the House passed the measure on a 79-19 vote exactly a month earlier, it now goes to the voters, who can approve it by a simple majority.
From the Seattle Times, Proposed amendment would make it easier for schools to pass property-tax levies
In the past eight years, 170 school operating levies in Washington won more than 50 percent of the vote but failed to reach the supermajority required to pass, according to the Washington Association of School Administrators. Local property-tax levies are a major source of money for public schools, helping pay for everything from teacher salaries to textbooks to utility bills. The proposed constitutional amendment wouldn't change the requirement that school bond issues, often used for construction projects, must get at least 60 percent of the vote to pass.


WASL
From the PI's House votes for leniency on math test

The House version of the bill, which passed on a 81-17 vote, would call for end-of-course tests in math and science to replace the WASL, if it is determined that they do a better job of assessing students. The Senate version only calls for a study of the end-of-course tests, but does not presume that they will replace the WASL.
From the Seattle Times, Parts of WASL dealt a blow
The bill now will go to a conference committee. In the meantime, a group of 38 school superintendents are making a last-minute push to convince legislators that passing reading and writing on the WASL should be delayed past 2008, like math.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Separating the Process and the Decision

The Process: In case you didn't already get the idea, I think the superintendent recruitment and selection process fell apart during the last week. The rushed, poorly planned presentation of the offer to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as the new superintendent during spring break, the denial that Dr. Thornton's withdrawal affected the decision, the abrupt end to an opportunity for public feedback that had been invited until April 17th, the fact that the school district web site still does not have (as of 6:24 this evening) any news of the decision, all contribute to a less than optimal way to bring in a new superintendent. The main reason given by School Board members for the rush was that they were worried they would lose both candidates to other jobs. I say, if the candidates were insufficiently committed to Seattle to take another job if offered first, then let them go elsewhere.

The Decision: But, that is now all in the past. The decision has been made. The way things happened during the past week may affect my decision about who to vote for in School Board elections this fall, but it will not affect my willingness to work with and support our new superintendent. As one School Board member said to me, this decision comes 4 years too late. The School Board stuck with Raj Manhas for way too long. And I have no doubt that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will be a big improvement over Raj.

I believe that the "Superintendent Entry Plan" Dr. Goodloe-Johnson presented to the Board during her visit to Seattle (which for some reason was not shared with the public at the time, was shared with the press today at the announcement, but is not yet available on the district website) looks quite positive.

She has a clear idea of what to do the first 100 days as superintendent. A few highlights as I see them are:

District and City Tour
- Arrange to meet the Mayor and City Council. Arrange community opportunities for introduction and to meet the broader Seattle community.

Political Leadership
- Meet with Union Representatives to understand structure, work and concerns and current agreements.
- Meet with all the college presidents to discuss teacher recruitment, retention and partnership.

Community Leadership
- Attend community meetings and share my vision and goals to improve student achievement and close the gap.
- Establish relationships with [a long list of community organizations including] Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

District Senior Staff
- Review student success plan.
- Request briefing papers from the staff on critical issue areas.
- Establish a leadership team to include principals.
- Attend instructional level principal meetings.

School Board
- Determine a schedule for regular off-site planning sessions with the board (at least three in first year).
- Hold a board retreat within the first week to discuss communication processes, policy governance goals and potential work with the Broad Foundation.

Media
- Meet with local newspaper editorial boards. Target trade press (i.e. Education Week) for early interviews.
- Revise, adjust 5-year strategic plan as needed.

National Leadership
- "Strategic Support Teams" (spend a closed-door working weekend with highly regarded urban superintendents from across the country --- Arlene Ackerman, Mark Roosevelt and Tom Payzant)
- Ask the Broad Foundation for assistance to fund policy governance training for board members, fund project management training for the district, development of a leadership institute and provide assistance in facilitating the superintendent's evaluation and additional leadership retreats as needed and agreed upon by the board.
- Make connections with national foundations that support urban education and reform.

Strategic Priorities for the District
- Accountability of the entire system
- Assessment of staff performance
- Determine what programs need to be evaluated for effectiveness and ROI

Rebuild Public Confidence in Seattle Public Schools
- Clarify and widely communicate expectations for accountability and improvement
- Analyze all data from the 100-day entry plan; share outcomes and plans for improvement

As I said during the school closure and consolidation process, I'd really like to fight for something in our district rather than against something. So now is the time for me to begin fighting to support our new superintendent in accomplishing what she has promised, working with other people around our community to hold her, the district staff, and the Board accountable.

School Board "Public" Meeting

Cheryl Chow just came out and announced that the Executive Session is going longer than expected. Says she hopes they'll be out in 45 more minutes.

Brita Butler-Wall is in the meeting via phone. Mary Bass just arrived.

Will keep you posted.

*****

By the way, how public is a "public" meeting when the number of media and district staff far exceeds the number of parents or other interested members of the public?

***********

Dr. Gregory Thornton has withdrawn. Details on Seattle Times website.

***********

Darlene Flynn moves that Seattle offer position of superintendent to Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. Seconded.

*******

Closing meeting, and opening up to press conference.

*********

Chow: "The School Board's foremost responsiblity is to assure the district has excellent leadershp in the position of superintendent...any one of the six semi-finalists would have been an excellent match with the profile...because of the high caliber of candidates attracted to Seattle, we had a hard time narrowing the pool to six, and then to two finalists. The semi-finalists and finalists were not ranked going into this final stretch...kept an open mind about what we would learn about the candidates...a search of this nature is not a rank order race....we knew that we needed to move briskly or risk having top tier candidates accept other offers...needed to strike the right balance [in process]...So after naming well-qualified finalists, we set about seeing them in action...our intention to offer a contract to the person who was our front-runner...superb fit with our profile...our appreciation for her skills...were only deepened during our visit to Charleston...We are confident that she will build on, and enhance, the excellent work that has begun under the leadership of CAO Carla Santorno...we saw how the people in her community were moved to tears over the idea of her leaving.

***********

DeBell [reading Brita's statement]: I am delighted to bring to SPS someone of the caliber of Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

DeBell: We were quite impressed with what we saw in Charleston. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has had a real impact on that community....She has brought the community together in the pursuit of excellence...her focused and decisive plan was something that was on everyone's lips...had made the case for how to change public education there so that most of the community was aware of it. We're looking forward to a similar impact from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson when she comes to Seattle.

Soriano: When speaking with her, what really impressed me was her laser-focus on education. Wanted to thank the hundreds of surveys and e-mails that were filled out here in Seattle. We'll take those into...into discussion as we go forward.

Bass: So excited...[and other language about that; Mary spoke briefly and I didn't catch any more specific words] Edited 4/14 to correct a misperception highlighted in a comment.

Stewart: So excited....goes into a school and says "How are the children?"...She looks at the data, she sees where the problems are...she comes up with a plan, she implements a plan, and then she asks "How are the children?"...We heard from a result of the site visits...that she has a highly collaborative style and I appreciate that very much. And she gets things done....I think we have someone who will get real things done in Seattle.

Flynn: ...I had a chance to meet with the Asian Minority Coalition...went into that meeting feeling equally enthusiastic about the two candidates...feedback [from community] gave us information that will be useful to Goodloe-Johnson as we go forward...We were all able to clearly see that both of these candidates are really, really strong....they had good theory of action, good specifics...very different styles...What I said about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was, while both candidates were very inspiring, she has the ability to teach you into what you need to know to be part of the change...

Chow: We took very seriously questions that staff and community wanted us to bring to Charleston...one of the issues or concerns...initial comments was, you know, "Is she warm?" and the answer is absolutely "yes." We had the opportunity to talk with principals and teachers...[told story about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson coming to school to talk with students and staff after gang murder] Showed me concretely the type of person we have in our new superintendent. Not only will she talk about data...but she's there for the children...she's going to move our academic achievement gap to zero.

******
Q & A section of meeting

Q: "How will feisty personality fly in Seattle?"
A: Chow: heard over and over, don't go to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson with requests unless you have the data.

Q: "What do you know about Dr. Thornton withdrawing his name, and how did that influence your decision?"
A: Absolutely did not have anything to do with the decision.

Q: "When did you find out about his withdrawal and anything you can share about why he made that decision?"
A: Before we got on the plane yesterday in Philadelphia, we met with Dr. Thornton. He said to us at that time that he had been offered a small district in Pennsylvania (10,000) kids, but he didn't want to go there. Also said rumors going on about superintendent in Philadelphia resigning, but he didn't want to be superintendent there either. Said he wanted to be in Seattle. Found out around 10 am this morning from consultant, but not officially.

Q. "Has she accepted the job?"
A: She has not accepted the job...we have to offer it. After we stop questions here, I'll go and offer her the job...If I was a betting woman...I'd said we're going to be very please with her answer.

Q. Asked about the Finalist from Topeka press release goof.
A. We did not rank the candidates...did not affect our process...had the PR people draft 6 possibilities

Q. "Offering her a 3-year contract?"
A: Yes. If I had my say, I would offer her a longer one....but by state law cannot be longer...

Q: $240,000?
A: As a top...need to offer the job.

Flynn: Felt like my life got a little easier for lack of a second candidate...

DeBell: Maintaining some kind of ranking in my mind the whole time...had a very good impression when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson came to Seattle.

Melissa Westbrook: Not enough time...I don't believe as thoughtful human beings that you gave this enough time. It looks like Dr. Thornton dropped out and you accepted Dr. Goodloe-Johnson as a de facto candidate.

Flynn: As of my going to sleep last night, I was deliberating on two candidates.

Q: You talked about a focus on academics, can you give any more specifics about how things are now and how things are going to change?
A: Flynn: Focus on using data to inform action....current theory is around changing the outcomes is that you interrogate those outcomes...and you stop doing the things that don't make a difference and you start doing the things that make more.

BREAKING NEWS --- Cheryl Chow ---- Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson has accepted our offer and will...of course we have to negotiate, but she has accepted our offer.

Q: What are your specific problem spots you want to address?
A: Use data to identify problems and create strategies...aligning curricula...strengthen leadership in our building.

DeBell: ...she has a very specific strategy for raising achievement of children or color and children in poverty...extended learning day...summer program...expectation to offer AP classes to all students in high school...focused on improving achivement for all students...diagnostic testing throughout the year...

Chow: Handout from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson that she gave us during her visit to Seattle....her plan on how to come in and listen to the community and get the information and what she's going to do in the first 100 days.

Q: Question about why Dr. Thornton didn't want to come.
A: Chow: I'm guessing that Philadelphia didn't want him to leave...didn't want to leave them in the lurch...don't even know if he was offered interim...I think we had top candidates....we were a little bit ahead of the curve, so that gave us an opportunity...Flynn: things look quite different now in Philadelphia...I think he was sincere in his pursuit of this opportunity...DeBell: Once you announce finalists, you change the situation. It's a public process from then on. Apparently the governor of Pennsylvania didn't want Dr. Thornton to leave...why we felt compelled to try to move quickly...

Seattle School District Stumbles, Risks Falling

For everybody who wanted to know the names of the finalists for the superintendent position, we now, thanks to a school district goof, know at least one of the names:

From the Seattle Times this morning, School district lets slip one candidate's name for top job, we learn:

...the packet given to reporters when Thornton came to town Thursday contained a news release that stated that Topeka Public Schools Superintendent W.L. (Tony) Sawyer was a finalist along with Thornton, not Goodloe-Johnson.

...Sawyer, who worked as head of secondary schools in a New York City borough before taking the job in Topeka, said Wednesday that he withdrew for personal reasons before the board decided on finalists.

...Patti Spencer, district spokeswoman, wouldn't comment on whether Sawyer had been the choice over Goodloe-Johnson. Because the board was moving fast, district staff members prepared more than one release, she said.


Note to Seattle School Board members --- when you are moving fast, you are more like to stumble. And when you stumble, you risk falling.

From the PI (Decision on school chief is near), we learn:
The School Board plans a closed-door meeting today to discuss the two finalists, Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, superintendent of the Charleston County (S.C.) Schools, and Gregory Thornton, chief academic officer at the School District of Philadelphia. After that meeting, the board plans to convene an open public meeting at 2:30 p.m. to discuss and possibly make final the decision.

How "open" and "public" a meeting can you have when it is a last minute, poorly publicized event taking place during spring break when many families are out of town? Is public testimony going to be accepted? It doesn't appear so from the April 12, 2007 Special Meeting Agenda.

Superintendent but what about the Board?

This op-ed is by Joni Balter of the Times.

Superintendent Announcement Near?

According to an article in today's PI, a superintendent could be announced as early as today. The article says that they are having an executive session at 1 followed by a public meeting at 2:30 with a possible announcement. Say what? Are they out of their minds? (Apparently so.)

One, Cheryl and Michael just got back from their trip. Where's the time to debrief the other Board members? Two, there hasn't even been a week since the candidate forums. That's not enough time for the public to respond, let alone the Board read and digest the feedback. Three, where is the reflection time? What is the rush? If either candidate is giving them a timetable, then forget that candidate. Four, I spoke with someone up the food chain yesterday and was given the strong impression that no decision would be made this week. (I also pointed out that this Friday is Friday the 13th. Not to be superstitious but you know.)

Do they know how badly this could reflect on them? No amount of spin can make this work. I can only hope that a majority of Board members stand up to Cheryl (who I believe is pushing this) and say no.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lynne Varner's column in the Times

I normally don't care for Lynne Varner's writing in the Times but I think she makes some valid points in her Lost in Translation column in today's Times. I was kind of surprised to learn that the Director of Equity and Race Relations makes 6 figures.

Shotgun Wedding?

What's the hurry? Why, as reported in Linda Thomas' blog in the PI site, did the School Board change its travel plans to visit Philadelphia and Charleston a week earlier? And why, are they now saying they will make a decision about who to offer the job to by tomorrow or Friday, just about a week after the community first got a chance to hear from the two candidates?

In reports in the Charleston media, we learn:
Cheryl Chow said: "The visit of both candidates last week, got us pumped up. We're just very excited about the quality of candidates and we didn't want to sit around and twiddle our thumps. We wanted to get out here and meet the community and find out what's going on at each of the sites." Charleston, SC - News - Seattle School Board Site Visit

"Chow said it was clear after both candidates visited Seattle last week that the district had two top candidates, and the board didn't want to lose either before completing the interview process. She canceled her spring break plans so the trip could take place sooner, she said...Chow said she didn't expect to uncover any information she didn't already know about Goodloe-Johnson but instead wanted to validate what she'd learned about her thus far, she said. Goodloe-Johnson's resume came alive during the course of the day, Chow said. The passion of her staff in their support for her and desire not to lose her was clear, she said...She also did well when interacting with the community and press in Seattle, Chow said. "It was great watching them in awe of her education knowledge," she said.

The Seattle board will meet Thursday so Chow and DeBell can brief them on their trip and review feedback from the community. It plans to make an offer to someone on Thursday or Friday, she said...On Monday, the Charleston County School Board voted to extend Goodloe-Johnson's contract to September 2009 if she doesn't get or take the Seattle job. A pay raise was not part of the offer." The Post and Courier, Charleston SC Charleston.net Stories


The first quote, from WCBD TV in Charleston makes me laugh. When my kids get excited about an upcoming trip, no amount of pleading or jumping up and down makes me move the trip a week earlier. I just don't buy Cheryl Chow's explanation for a minute. Changing the School Board's visit to the two cities must have been a logistical headache, involving rescheduling meetings (I hope) with busy, district and city leaders. Not to mention the cost involved with changing plane tickets, hotel reservations, etc. and the impact on the personal and professional lives of the School Board members traveling. No, the change in visit schedule wasn't just because they were so "pumped up" about the quality of the candidates.

So what is the real reason? The second quote gives us some idea: "the board didn't want to lose either before completing the interview process." Is Dr. Goodloe-Johnson getting pressure from her Board to make a decision about her contract extension? It doesn't sound like it. But perhaps she is putting pressure on the Seattle School Board to decide, using her contract extension offer from Charleston as leverage. Or, perhaps, one or both candidates are being considered as candidates in other superintendent search processes (Dr. Thornton in Oakland, maybe?) which is putting pressure on the School Board to make a decision.

At the end of the community interviews of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Dr. Thornton last Thursday and Friday, Seattle School Board President Cheryl Chow made a big deal out of soliciting feedback from the community: the people in the room, the people watching on television, and the people those people would tell about the interviews. She said there was plenty of time to provide feedback since the decision wouldn't be made until the 3rd week of April. Why the change in story now? And what message does that send about the importance of community feedback in the process. Does anyone believe that the survey data has even been tabulated yet? I guess this makes clear how important the community input is in the School Board's decision.

Does the School Board just want to hurry up and make a decision so they can be done with this process before public sentiment builds against both candidates? Because, after doing research and reading, I believe that given the choice of:

A) Dr. Goodloe-Johnson; and

B) Dr. Thornton;

the best answer is

C) None of the above.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Questions for Board Members to Ask

As Michael DeBell, Cheryl Chow and Brita Butler-Wall visit Charleston and Philadelphia, here are the questions I would like them to ask:

Charleston

  • What are Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's interpersonal strengths and weaknesses? Please ask people with varying levels of power and influence this question, not just School Board members or community leaders. Parents from Charleston have made the following comments on this blog: "She is rude and she does not value parental input. Maria is not big on explaining her actions or her outcomes. Be careful in your selection." "Dr. Goodloe is an excellent individual and will lead Seattle school district to many victories as she has done in CCSD." "If Seattle offers her the position as super then get used to a type of public engagement that usually starts with the phrase 'We've already decided that, so let's move on.'"
  • How does Dr. Goodloe-Johnson deal with people who disagree with her? During the interview process in Seattle, she showed some disdain for the School Board members who hadn't agreed with her. Is this her usual method of dealing with disagreement? A Charleston blogger wrote, "Good luck to Dr. Johnson in whatever she chooses to do. I hope that in the future she stops lumping everyone that disagrees with her into the enemy camp."
  • How, if at all, does Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's lack of charisma and personal presence when speaking affect her ability to lead, inspire and influence others in the school district and across Charleston? Seattle desperately needs a leader who can effectively communicate a vision for Seattle Public Schools to both people in and outside of the school district, helping to unify the community around specific goals and generate funding and support for reform initiatives. Can Dr. Goodloe-Johnson realistically be expected to play that role?
  • How does Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's dislike of politics affect her work as superintendent in Charleston? (positively or negatively) From a recent interview in the Post and Courier in Charleston comes the following exchange between the reporter and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on this issue: "...So the biggest growth, I think for any superintendent, especially for me, has been the political arena. And it's funny because I hear myself saying to people, 'This isn't about logic, this isn't about what makes sense, it's about politics.' And that's sad to me because that's not what the job's about. I don't think anybody came into education, including superintendents, maybe there are some but I haven't met them, that go into the superintendency because they love politics. ... It's the world we live in, but it shouldn't be how we make decisions for kids. So the biggest growth, really, is the politics of Charleston. Who's who, how they support what, and all those kinds of things.
    Q Favorite part of your job?
    A Visiting the schools, talking to the kids, talking to teachers.
    Q Least favorite part of your job?
    A The politics.

Philadelphia

  • Does Dr. Thornton give different answers to different people on the same questions in order to try to please everybody? During the interview process in Seattle, his highest value seemed to be getting everybody to like him. I discounted much of what he said and found myself rolling my eyes a lot, reacting to what I call the "bullshit factor." Someone on this blog, comparing the two candidates said "She [Dr. Goodloe-Johnson] was honest, and didn't have to continually proclaim how good she is and at the same time try to act modest. That's the one thing that bugged me about Thornton. 'I'm good, I'm not the best, but I'm one of the best'. That says to me that he's working way too hard to convince us that he's qualified for the job."
  • Was the no-bid contract ethics violation a single event in his professional history, or does Dr. Thornton have a pattern of unethical behavior? Thornton's boss, Paul Vallas, said at the time the ethics violation was reported, "'You can't accept anything from anyone doing business with the school district,' he emphasized to reporters. 'At the very least [Thornton and Chivis] should have recused themselves. With the trip and the contract being awarded there was a violation of the ethics policy, a serious violation....'Any department head or administrator should be paranoid about the ethics policy. They should not only be afraid to violate the ethics policy, they should also be afraid to appear to violate the ethics policy.'" How can Vallas or Thornton explain what happened and why they both are trying now to minimize its importance? The Board says they are looking for a superintendent who "Inspires trust and confidence, models integrity." Does Dr. Thornton really meet that profile?
  • How much experience and skill does Dr. Thornton have with fiscal management? Since Dr. Thornton has never been a superintendent, or even an Assistant Superintendent, is he ready for the job of being a superintendent of a large urban district facing serious financial challenges? Has his visionary educational approach created budget problems? Does his work as Chief Academic Officer extend beyond the boundaries of educational decision-making and programming into other management work? Or does Vallas and his staff handle the vast majority of the financial, capital and other district management issues.
  • What is Dr. Thornton's relationship with business and his beliefs in privatization in public schools? During the interview in Seattle, Dr. Thornton claimed that while privatization (charters, Edison schools, and other models) made sense in Philadelphia, it didn't make sense in Seattle. Does he really know enough about our district already to make that statement, or was he just playing to the crowd? In Seattle, Dr. Thornton interrupted an answer to an audience member's question to say "Hi, Jane." I was baffled by that until later when he made a point to again call out the fact that he knew Jane already and to gush about how wonderful Jane and Microsoft have been to Philadelphia schools. Is that how Dr. Thornton typically acts around business people? Does he bend Philadelphia schools to meet business agendas, or just seek business support for his own vision of quality schools? And, given his previous ethics violation, is his relationship with business seen as too cozy?

Seattle School Board Members

While traveling this week and during their discussion of the finalists on Thursday, I'd also like DeBell, Chow and Butler-Wall to ask themselves and their colleagues on the School Board the following questions:

  • Are we settling for a "good enough" candidate because of our desire to hire a superintendent before our Board terms expire? Commenters on this blog have talked about choosing between these finalists with phrases like "Well if we only have these two to choose from..." and "so whoever it is, we're going to have to make the best of it." Commenters on other blogs have talked about the candidates as "pretty good second tier candidates," saying that the best superintendent candidates wouldn't consider the job in Seattle until after the Board election happens.
  • What criteria did we use, either explicitly or implicitly, beyond what was listed in the superintendent profile document, to choose the two finalists from the 11 candidates presented by the search firm? And should we share the criteria with the public? Both finalists are pushing a standardized curriculum and assessment system. Did you filter out candidates who did not? Both finalists are in districts with Edison schools. Did you filter out candidates who were opposed to any type of privatization?
  • Going forward, can we put the district's (and therefore the children's) best interests before our own? When and how will we involve the mayor and other city leaders who have criticized us in the superintendent hiring process? Should it be before we make and announce a final hiring decision? Would choosing Carla Santorno as the interim superintendent and delaying the hiring decision until after the School Board elections in the fall better serve Seattle Public Schools in the long run?